Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Angela Landreth
is the story of the Lamberts; how family members relate and how their individual lives affect each other. Franzen shows us what has brought each of them to this point in their life and how they deal with the here and now. What makes it fascinating is that aspects of each of these characters remind us of our own relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
s the family matriarch, Enid Lambert's time has come. Her children are grown and her husband retired. However fate intervenes, so that what Enid envisioned as her freedom becomes her prison. Her husband Alfred's sufferings from dementia and Parkinson's disease force Enid once again to assume the caretaker role. Though Alfred has periods of lucidity, Enid discovers on a cruise that she cannot leave him unattended. Her greatest desire is to have her family together for one last Christmas in St. Jude.
is days as a retired chief engineer from Midpac Pacific Lines and an inventor are in Alfred's past. Lucid moments occur less frequently, and his hallucinations grow more bizarre. He attempts to hold things together as his children either distance themselves or try to take over decision making from their parents. Enid, herself, is a problem for Alfred, because she has never been satisfied or happy with what he has done or said throughout their almost fifty years together.
he eldest child Gary is bitter about his dad's retirement when he could have worked a few more years and increased his pension. Worries about being his parents' financial backup lead Gary to try to take charge of their affairs. And of course there is his own crisis. Though his wife is convinced that he is depressed, Gary is in denial. His angst is aggravated by Alfred's insistence in sharing his patent profits with a now defunct company. Alfred's reasoning of '
I was using the railroad's materials and equipment
' somehow reminds Gary of his brother Chip's financial failures.
hip, the middle child, has his own set of personal, professional, and financial difficulties. Chip's greatest failure is that, just short of reaching college tenure, he lost his job due to an improper relationship with a student. He acquires a new one at the
Warren Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
, as Enid believes she heard him say) while he spends his off time working on a screenplay. After another doomed relationship and the failure of said screenplay, Chip accepts a job in Lithuania, viewing this as an opportunity to redeem himself professionally and financially.
hip needs the financial redemption in order to repay the $20,000 he owes his sister Denise. This youngest child is the one who shoulders the brunt of the burden of dealing with Enid and Alfred. Denise seems happy to pursue her career as a professional chef. However, she has dismayed her mom by vowing that she will never marry again after her divorce. Enid is upset since she believes that Denise is involved with a married man, whereas her daughter is unable to explain to her mother the true reason she will not re-enter the nuptial state.
does not follow the normal chapter setup, but instead is divided into sections. When I first began reading, I was discouraged as the story moved slowly. I discovered that it had its own unique rhythm, which took a while to appreciate. Readers might be tempted to put the book down during this first section, but by continuing they will be rewarded with a compelling and complex tale of a contemporary American family. This is one of those rare books that leaves you physically and emotionally drained, but keeps drawing you on until its conclusion.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.
Find more Contemporary books on our
or in our book