A brilliant, wide-ranging novel book about a disintegrating family: a managing mother obsessed with getting her adult children home for Christmas as if it could save her life; an autocratic father plummeting into dementia; a pompous son disturbingly dependent on his manipulative wife; a creative daughter prey to self-destructive impulses; and a clever youngest son, victim of his own bad choices. All desperate, all lost, yet grasping at life, they’re rendered so honestly and vividly that the reader can’t help but sympathize. They lurch toward each other, resisting all the way.
For writers: Franzen is exceptional at writing in an extremely close third-person voice, using free indirect style. He doesn’t simply translate his characters; he seems to pull the words right out of their heads. He once confessed to touch-typing his work while wearing earplugs and a blindfold to help him go deep. Try reading a chapter of his, then your own work, to learn what you could do to bring yours closer.