When several weeks ago I decided to take on and do a full analysis of the bestseller “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, typical me, I took a large bite. By declaring that I intended to analyze and review this mega-novel, I made myself accountable to doing what I gripe about other reviewers not doing: posting a review without reading the book. I’ve read it, first to final page. The full review is to follow soon.
When I began reading “Freedom” another novel sprang into my mind during the first chapter; the famous critically-hyper-acclaimed “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates. (The film, though done reasonably well, does not compare well to the novel). Writers herald Yates’ masterpiece more than readers, which is understandable due to the disturbing subject matter. As I was thinking about making this comparison, I went to Google and immediately found an article that read my mind, but back in February 2011. While at first dismayed because someone else snagged my idea, on thinking further I believe this prior comparison helps to certify my own impression of these two books.
The third book in this comparative analysis is the stylish noir “Bang!” by new author William Butler. Like the two above, this novel is not for all audiences. However, Butler’s excellent writing skills stand up to many multi-published authors.
What does this trio of novels have in common? They are all set in modern American suburbia. They all are about marriage, what the relationship means to the couple, and how that close relationship motivates each partner.
How do these books compare, other than famous author (Franzen), almost forgotten author (Yates), and relatively unknown author (Butler)? My ranking of the three novels, least to best, with my interpretation of the message regarding marriage below each in italics:
Third place: “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen. To be fair, this book is not as terrible as some are saying. I don’t believe Franzen hates his characters; on the contrary, he saves them in the end, thus showing the reader how important the relationships of family and marriage are to people, regardless of a lifetime’s events. Problems happen during the couple’s marriage, people separate, but for reasons beyond deep love, they find their way back together. (I’m leaving out the political issues in “Freedom” for the review).
Message: Regardless of what life hits us with, the people we love deep down are always with us, and the fortunate ones can find their way back to happiness after separation.
Second place: “Bang!” by William Butler. He’s stated he’s been writing for much of his life, so to compare this unknown author to me is not an insult to the other two. The married couple in this noir story begins with serious problems with each other and themselves and by their best efforts to make everything in their lives worse, they succeed in derailing their lives to tragic ends, as no other destiny is possible.
Message: Married people living moment-to-moment with twisting emotions of love/hate for each other carry self-destructive behavior to disastrous ends.
First place: “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates. The married couple thinks of themselves as special and capable of doing more fantastic things with their life than suburban family living. Because of the inability of giving love from one partner, and the unwavering love from the other partner, their fantasy free-falls into a tragic reality.
Message: We all think we’re special. If not for these desires we would be rocks, but to act on our desires without maturity can be our undoing.
Why are these “blame it on suburbia” books so popular? Most Americans live in the suburbs, and these stories reflect what many of us witness in our everyday lives. While I like many genres of fiction, stories about everyday people hits us deep down, and be it a happy or tragic end, the message stays with us.