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franzen does dfw

One thing I enjoyed in Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, was his use of David Foster Wallace-style intrafamily dialog. [spoiler alert] This scene, where Patty's father discourages her to involve the police in her rape, echoes the scene in Infinite Jest where Hal identifies his father as the "professional conversationalist", or the late night phone calls between Hal and Orin:  

"Coach Nagel says I should go to the police."

"Coach Nagel should stick to her dribbling," her dad said.

"Softball," Patty said. "It's softball season now."

"Unless you want to spend your entire senior year being publicly humiliated."

"Basketball is in the winter. Softball is in the spring, when the weather's warmer?"

"I'm asking you: is that really how you want to spend your senior year?"

"Coach Carver is basketball," Patty said. "Coach Nagel is softball. Are you getting this?"

Her dad started the engine. 

I enjoy this pattern, but not quite enough to justify reading the whole book. 

Another DFW-esque trick is the foreshadowing that never amounts to much, as in Freedom's opening sentence: 

The news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally. [...] Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in the nation's capital... [He is] in trouble now for conniving the with the coal industry and mistreating country people. 

When I read this, I was hoping that the rest of the book would emerge as the story of Walter's descent from environmentalist to corrupt crony, but Franzen pulls his punches. What could have been the climax of the plot, when precociously independent Joey calls his father for help in the middle of an arms-trading fiasco, is instead handled almost off-screen. The difference here is that DFW's foreshadowing -- of Hal and Don Gately digging up Incandenza père's head -- actually is the climax of multiple plots finally intertwining. Walter's scandal, however, sounds as a disappointing minor note in what could have been the unifying story line. Franzen could have used the scandal to show how all of this freedom led the main characters to betray their deepest beliefs, but he made it just another episode in a long novel that ultimately lacks a climax. 

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