It’s a miraculous event to witness someone take their last breath, much as I imagine it is to watch a soul take its first gulp of air.I like Good Friday because whether one practices Buddhism or Catholicism or Hinduism or Islam or Judaism or Mormonism (only of the organized religions of the world), it is a day of remembrance and reverence not only of one man, but anyone that we’ve ever loved or cherished, and whose soul we hope to re-connect with when it is our time to leave.The essay caused a bit of a lit-world stir when it came out in 2003 from Granta.
It’s a miraculous event to witness someone take their last breath, much as I imagine it is to watch a soul take its first gulp of air.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder, if you knew you were going to die the next day, what last words would you speak and to whom?
What face would you hope looked upon your own with love as you said good-bye to this life?
After her first sexual experience—a date rape at a high school party—Patty grasps the full extent of her parents’ indifference, in what is one of the book’s sharpest, most unsettling passages. She knew that you could love somebody more than anything and still not love the person all that much, if you were busy with other things.” The narrative picks up again in 2004 in Washington, where Walter, with a comely young assistant in tow, has become involved with a dubious conservation effort involving Dick Cheney, a coal-mining company, and the fastest-declining songbird in North America. ”Patty’s thwarted need for victory became a way into the novel, the majority of which was eventually written in one seven-month sprint.
Meanwhile, Patty, for whom building the perfect nest was a way to win against her “creative” siblings, finds herself in midlife plummet. “I was once married to a person who was very competitive, who was very competitive with me,” says Franzen.
She’s professionless, estranged from her children, and very, very angry. We’re unprecedentedly rich and free; why is everyone so miserable? (His longtime girlfriend, the short-story writer Kathryn Chetkovich, famously laid bare her own feelings about his success and its effect on their relationship in a piercingly candid 2003 essay titled “Envy.”) “And I really wanted to write about competition because it’s this fixture of the free market that nobody really wants to talk about.
In the period following the downside of unchecked liberty was very much on Franzen’s mind. It’s considered unattractive to be competitive, and yet our entire political economy is based on a mechanism of competition.After six years of false starts trying to break ground on a new novel, years in which he faced the death of his mother and adapted to a new life of literary celebrity, he saw his country subsumed by anger. It’s bad enough to be a man and be competitive; it’s even harder to be a woman and be competitive.” confirms Franzen as an author of astonishing prescience—it’s uncanny, and yet somehow unsurprising, that he publishes a big book with an ecological bent just as millions of gallons of oil defile the Gulf of Mexico.But for all his laudable devotion to the social novel, it’s another, far riskier kind of imperative—emotional honesty above all—that keeps us reading.The Lakota, a tribe of the Sioux nation, understood that the spirit never dies, but that death of the body was part of nature, and nature was to be revered, always.I treated last night, Holy Thursday, as a penitent evening even though I no longer practice Catholicism.In exchange for , you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more! “I like the fact that novels in other languages are called some version of romance,” says Jonathan Franzen, sitting at the antique wood dining table of his book-filled Upper East Side apartment.“There is not a thing in it that actually happened to me, and yet it’s the book that draws most directly on my experience of being, and the path my life has taken.To take the lid off the innermost can of worms, which is what I feel I did in this book, I went to all the stuff I was most ashamed of, most uncomfortable writing about, stuff that was least resolved in me.” In evoking the tenderness—and increasing toxicity—of Patty and Walter’s marital world, he drew upon the fourteen years he was married, as well as the long, often adversarial marriage of his parents, moving them up a generation.You can also find us in the i Tunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week.