making mistakes, common mistakes, relationship mistakes, learn from mistakes, same mistakes

I’ve not been a Jonathon Franzen fan until now. I didn’t like the people in Corrections which spoiled the book for me. On the first page of Freedom I was already very worried I was about to repeat the same experience. I’m very happy I persevered. Last night, I finished the final page with tears in my eyes.

What a remarkable novel. It’s the author’s layering, who the people are over decades, that enchants. Childhood & its impact on bad choices is particularly well done. One reviewer on Amazon complained he didn’t believe “a 47 yr. old hasn’t had a taste of beer”. He is ignoring the ugliness of Walter growing up with a mean alcoholic, thats what made it believable.

People are surprising in their choices, it’s a huge part of my delight in listening to people’s stories.

The layering over time creates complex characters that are three-dimensional. I believe irony in people’s lives is very important to understand. So of course Walter, the man with moral standards, gets seduced in D.C. by strip mining interests and in his denial he buys the idea, it’s all o.k because he’ll create a sanctuary for a warbler.

Good men fall victim to bad choices, it is such a human thing to do. It’s why preachers get caught with prostitutes which has never surprised me after working with people for more than 35 years.

Ultimately, it is the authors’ ability to show us how mistakes are a huge part of our lives. We are so determined not to make the same parenting mistakes our parents made with us, just like Patty. Then we go ahead and make different ones that are still problematic.

We have the freedom of choices and so often we screw it up. It can take decades to truly learn what love is when you’ve convinced yourself of the myth you chose the wrong man.

Freedom of choice includes disastrously bad choices. The wisdom of choice has to be earned by the pain of experiencing mistakes. This adds to the authenticity because it’s just like real life.

Part of accepting our humanity is to smile knowingly at how confusing life and relationships are. We try to understand what’s right and what’s wrong and it turns out the real truth takes time to surface and maybe it’s the opposite of what we obsessively decided previously.

The characters are full of the flaws we all have and they learn to endure, just like us.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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