A pink taxi

A pink taxi

January 15, 2011

Living Rooms

I am hurrying my otherwise slow paced reading of The Corrections because I must pass  the baton to another avid Franzen reader. "The Corrections" is Franzen's first bestseller and is harder to find than the recently published "Freedom". Just yesterday, I ran into Borders to buy three more copies of Freedom for friends and family. I am a successful missionary or leader of a cult: I am responsible for more than 8 Franzen books being sold and (I hope) read, not withstanding the ones I have shared with others.

"The Corrections" is not a standard title, almost like on of those personalized names parents give their children, in quest for originality. "Freedom" has a more classical ring to it. But nothing is classic or standard with Jonathan Franzen. A friend of mine, who happens to be a staunch critic of Franzen, and cannot understand my passion for the author, has likened Franzen to John Irving. Not that there is anything wrong with John Irving either, in my humble opinion, but the latter doesn't come close to Franzen's genius.

I cannot decide which of Franzen's novels I prefer,  "Freedom" or "The Corrections". The context, tone and approach are all similar, and the style is unmistakably his. I am delighted to have  a few more pages of more Franzen to savor, to dwell in his atmosphere, to meet his protagonists, to exult in the discovery of a scene, or a plot development: hilarious is often the best adjective!

This friend of mine/critic of Franzen asserted that the context of the Mid-West, central to Franzen's work, was uninteresting to him.  However, the Corrections is about  Mid-Westerners  born in the 1970s, who, like Franzen himself, are unhappy in their world, and find exile in the more sophisticated and intellectual East coast. They then experience a generational conflict, as they strive to differentiate themselves from their parents,  and attempt to correct their parents' ways. In fact, the three grown children of Alfred and Enid lead extremely liberal lifestyles and are only MidWestern in provenance.

I don't think the generational gap is as exaggerated between myself and my own parents. However the one thing I and my siblings do differently from my parents is the way we view our "living rooms".  In photographs I get from my sister who lives in NYC, I always notice my nephews who are doing their laps around their living room on their bicycles. In contrast, as children ourselves, the living room was almost sacred territory, a place for adults to sit and talk, and enjoy nice furnishings and delicate objects. We were NEVER allowed to play in the living room, much less ride a bicycle there. My children aren't allowed to do it either. But they live in a warm climate and always have a chance to bike outside.

My mother's living room is a space that is used only 5% of the time: exclusively for formal events. When friends pop by on an informal basis they sit with the rest of us in the TV room, upstairs. Paradoxically the living room occupies 25% the house and also acts as a showcase room for my mother's collectibles: breakable antiques and rich brocade pillows that she pats back to a puffy size as soon as the guest stands up to leave.

In my house, my TV room is combined into a  living room, and I have the TV off 90% of the time. A large Persian carpet, a discreet flat screen, two couches set far apart to give enough space for play and my living room is a grander TV room/ playroom, which turns into the adult living room, after children's bedtimes, when my friends pop up in an informal or formal way. Those are the alterations I have made from my upbringing, the "corrections" that I have made in my adult life. 

Kappla games, matchbox toys, puzzles, unfortunately a lot of Wii and play station gaming (which is worse than TV) take place on daily or weekly basis in our living room. It is the heart of the house and the most active room. Steel sculptures and art on the walls personalize the room. The children are welcome: we are not afraid of breakage. The more delicate art and the glassware and porcelains are delegated to the office or master bedroom.

On the carpet, my children play with their Barbies and matchbox cars, and I hope they also appreciate the canvases and photographs around them. They peer from the 43rd floor at a vista that is now standard for them. In my childhood,  I used to visit the top of the Trade Center, on the 33rd floor, and scream with excitement.

When the children grow up, perhaps we will be able to add a few more antiques on the side tables and furnish the room more elaborately. However, no matter what, our living room will always remain the heart of our home, a lived- in space rather than "a salon": the single Correction a la Franzen I have made.


  1. Yes I profess that I am one of the three "lucky" ones to have been targeted with an invited copy of Freedom.I took it with me to my garden on a sunny morning and got an indigestion reading the first 9 pages.I got that same "weird" feeling that the genuis author uses a lot in his opening chapter. Now I am threatened by the blogger to force feed me the 800-plus pagesbook via collective reading sessions.I do feel for her youngsters who pass through their daily drill.

  2. I was asked by the blogger:why did you avoid commenting on the living room part of the blog.My stark answer is that marriage is an art in compromise.When a spouse considers the "salon" as my mother called her living room;a restricted area for children and insensitive teenagers;it becomes a bone of contention.I dont believe any part of the house should be a restricted area,unless we are living now in the age of Homeland Secutity.