Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: "Strong Motion" by Jonathan Franzen

I have said in other reviews, mainly ones I wrote on Dave Egger’s books that him and Jonathan Franzen have really swapped places in American literature today. Years ago, I felt Eggers was a pompous ass and Franzen was the cool one. Now, I feel there places have changed a bit, with Eggers producing unique books filled with innovation and emotion, while Franzen seems content to publish very little fiction and still come off like a grumpy old man. But there was a time where he wasn’t, and before he became famous for The Corrections, he wrote Strong Motion, a flawed yet fun novel that combines the muckraker’s eye for fiction that possessed Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis, with some decidedly post-modern aspects that took me by surprise coming from a straight-forward writer like Franzen. It produces mixed results, with some elements outshining others, but it is no way a bad book. The novel focuses on the Holland family, as most Franzen books tend to focus on families. They are reeling from the death of their matriarch, who dies in a rather funny way when she falls off the barstool in her large home during an earthquake, making her the only victim that is tallied. During a bitter feud over her inheritance, Louis, the idiot son of the family, falls in love with Renee, a seismologist who uncovers some damning facts about what caused the earthquake while taking a harrowing journey with the unstable Louis. The beginning is great, detailing Louis’s relationship with his seemingly much more successful sister Eileen. But Louis is too much of a blank slate to be interesting, with events going on around him without his participation. I was much more interested in people like Renee, who has a section involving abortion that really elevates this book. It is far from something as the arguably generation defining Freedom, but this long book was never anything but satisfying.

Rating: 4/5

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