I read "The Catcher in the Rye", by J.D.Salinger when I took a summer course in American Lit at St Alban's, in Washington D.C. Often, when I think of Washington DC the image of its maroon cover comes to mind. I can even visualize the title's golden large font.
That summer, the teacher had also assigned "The Diary of Anne Frank", given that both books were coming of age stories. At age twelve, I was of course very receptive to this literature and I read and re-read passages, in search of those authors' confessions.
|Picture taken in a NYC cab by Talal Salaam
"Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen could also be designated as a coming of age novel. Like "The Catcher in the Rye", New York City is looming in the background, an intimidating playground for a teenager. In Freedom, it is Christmas 2001 and the country is still trembling from the 9/11 attacks. New York City has a threatening feel to it. This is a far cry from Gossip Girl's NYC, as popularized by that T.V. show, which glamorizes the world of over privileged kids who are merely concerned with fashion and dating.
There is something special about discovering contemporary talent in literature, and I know that Freedom has the power to one day become a classic. To think that the writer is still living, and may write another equally rich novel, is thrilling. I leafed through two of his earlier novels, and didn't find them as magically enthralling as this one. In Freedom, pages and pages are so lyrical and utterly simple that I wanted to read them out loud. I have yet to discover his memoirs, which were ferociously critiqued by the NY Times' Kakutani, and "The Corrections" which earned him an award.
In "The Catcher in the Rye", the protagonist takes his little sister to the Museum of Natural History. The descriptions I discovered twenty five years ago were so accurate and precise that I still remember Salinger's words when I walk into a museum of that sort, be it the one in New York or even in Geneva! Even the film "A Night in the Museum" makes me think of that novel. Franzen uses the term "phony", as coined by Salinger, throughout his novel, an obvious clin d'oeuil to a writer that has influenced him.
Another writer who came to mind as I read "Freedom", is Francoise Sagan. She was a French writer with a personality like Franzen's. She wrote "Bonjour Tristesse", a little gem of a book, about a Lolita who spends a languorous summer with her divorced mother. Sagan gained cult status after writing that book. Similarly, Salinger was so afraid of his fans that he went into solitary retirement in the nature, as did William Thoreau at Walden Pond.
In "L'Ecume des Jours", the love between Sartre and Mme de Beauvoir is ridiculed, but Boris Vian, its author, eventually also gained cultish status as Sagan did and Salinger in the U.S. Today, I join many in admiring Jonathan Franzen. He has colored my month with instant gratification reading as I sniffed the literary quality of his work. His book surely rises to the level of my much beloved "Catcher in the Rye". Freedom will be read across colleges and perhaps maybe in high school! I can be sure of it.