Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What I Did Not Love in 2010

With one exception, I did not read a Young Adult novel in 2010. I didn't read a Middle Grade novel. I suppose I was on sabbatical from novels for young readers.

I did read many novels written for adults, a few of which will crossover for the teen reader quite well. I will write about these tomorrow in a "novels I loved in 2010" post.

Those of you who know me know that I rarely post a negative review or comment. If I don't like a book, I just don't write about it. At least not extensively. It's an energy thing, I guess.

However...the book I did not like in 2010 was THE book--Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. And I've thought for months about writing a review of Freedom and have decided, as usual, not to do so. Instead, I will provide the two main reasons I disliked Freedom.

1. If you happen to be a woman, Freedom is one disheartening read. As in War and Peace, which Franzen refers to directly in Freedom, the novel's main protagonists are two men and one woman. They're all fairly unlikable, a feature of the novel Laura Miller refers to and defends at Salon**, but the male characters, serious Walter (Andrei) and unfocused Richard (Pierre), have redeeming qualities the reader either admires or finds charming. (Oh, that rogue!)

The female center to this contemporary love triangle is boring, self-centered, untalented Patty. She's no Natasha, that's for sure. There's no life to her, but for narcissistic bitterness, and it's hard to see why Walter, her husband, and Richard, her occasional lover, would ever find her intriguing enough to pursue, let alone argue over.

I think I might have enjoyed Freedom if the secondary characters did not follow this same pattern. I suppose there is one "positive" female character, Walter and Patty's daughter, but she's such a stereotype ("good girl," recent graduate from a prestigious college, "selfless" job in publishing) that she serves mostly as a plot device.

2. The sex scenes. I'm not sure I've seen mention of the sex scenes in Freedom in the reviews I've read, but I just can't let this novel go without mentioning them. The sex between Walter and Patty and Patty and Richard is forgettable or, sadly, very like rape. And, the phone sex shared by Walter and Patty's ne'er-do-well son, Joey, and his girlfriend Connie is ridiculous.

Crossover Potential? None. Teens do not want to read about the pathetically middle aged.
Other Books on My "Did-not-Love" List:

I've already mentioned that I was underwhelmed by Mockingjay. This was probably due to high expectations, however.

And, while I really wanted to enjoy Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty, I just didn't. But, as I will read Franzen's next novel (I liked The Corrections), I will read Martin's as well.
**I absolutely agree with Laura Miller that there is no reason at all a novel's characters must be likable. I just couldn't get past how universally unlikable Franzen's female protagonists were in Freedom.