Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Am The Penguin...

The RF team was discussing Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom (none of us have read it yet - just read the reviews). Here is an excerpt from the NY Times book review that caught our attention:

"The Berglunds really are headed for disaster, though not because there’s something wrong with them. They are, after all, “fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street” — and much of America, too. They resemble any number of well-meaning couples for whom “the home” has become a citadel of aspirational self-regard and family life a sequence of ennobling rites, each act of over parenting wreathed in civic import — the “issues” involving cloth versus disposable diapers, or the political rectitude of the Boy Scouts, or the imperative to recycle batteries — and the long siege of the day heroically capped by “Goodnight Moon” and a self- congratulatory glass of zinfandel."

One RF contributor was, earlier in the day, switching between watching Tennis and watching that Penguin movie that was playing on another channel and he suggested comparing the depiction of parenting above with the parenting of the Emperor Penguin. The male Emperor Penguin will sit on the nest keeping the babies warm for 4 months while the female walks 70 miles to the shoreline to gorge herself on fish, fatten up, waddle back and then regurgitate in order to feed her brood. It's a cold and thankless task living in Antarctica (as is living in the Berglund house?) but the Penguin has adapted to its environment in order to perpetrate the species. It involves a lot of self sacrifice and no Freedom.

Maybe the modern middle class parenting style that has become part of the zeitgeist (over protective, over scheduled etc) is in fact adaptive - a rational response to a world where expectations have risen almost as much as anxiety and therefore more like the Penguin than not. But maybe it is something else.

Or maybe the book is not about that at all. The reviews have been fast and furious - time to get the book and see what it really is about.

And here's a memoir by author Darin Strauss (author of "Cheng and Eng" among others) describing a part of his past that he had kept out of view until now and that caught our attention:

From the NY Times Book review:

"At 18, Strauss was behind the wheel of his Oldsmobile with some high school friends in tow, on their way to play miniature golf near his suburban Long Island home. It was a month before the end of his senior year in high school — a time of optimism, as Strauss writes: “Your future rarely feels so present as it does in this June of your prime.” He was set to go to Tufts in the fall. The day was clear, visibility excellent. He drove the legal speed limit. He wasn’t drunk or high. He saw a group of girls riding bicycles on the side of the road, and in the next moment, inexplicably, one swerved across two lanes and in front of his car. Her name was Celine Zilke, and she was 16 years old, a junior at his high school.

“So few of our days contain actions that are irrevocable. Our lives are designed not to allow for anything irrevocable,” Strauss writes. But on that spring day, the irrevocable slammed into the worlds of the 18-year-old boy and the 16-year-old girl. Life changed in a flash so fast that he would never be able to summon the moment fully. She was dead, and he had killed her.

The accident slowly carved Strauss from the inside out, remaking whoever he might have become had he taken a different route on that spring day, or sped up at a yellow light, or been in a different lane.

It was their accident. A girl died, and the boy who killed her also died that day. In his place grew a man who became a writer who returns to that moment again and again, attempting to reshape the irrevocable, searching for truth and meaning, if not solace, in the spot where the wound will never heal. "

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