Which Star Wars character do you most identify with? Which superhero would you be? These are fun, frivolous games to play while killing time with the kids in the car on your way to the in-laws (hopefully not in St. Jude). But then there’s this question, suggested by The Office‘s Mindy Kaling, who tweeted: “The Jonathan Franzen character I’m most like is Abigail, Patty’s sister in Freedom. Which Franzen character are you most like?”
Can’t I just say Han Solo and turn on some talk radio? Because I just completed the double whammy of Franzen’s recent best-seller Freedom and his devastating 2001 novel, The Corrections, and there’s not one character in 1,152 pages that I’d publicly wrap my arms around. That’s not to say his characters didn’t attach themselves to my psyche for weeks on end — they most certainly did. Part of Franzen’s genius is his gift in creating characters who reflect the deepest fears and darkest secrets of the reader. In so many of the characters, male and female, old and young, Franzen seemed to be holding a mirror up to me at my worst, most vulnerable moments. (Clearly, I couldn’t put the books down.) So selecting a Franzen character as your own is a grueling exercise in self-analysis. Kaling’s answer of Abigail is revealing in ways only she might understand. Patty’s hippy-dippy sister lives in Manhattan with her cats and is prone to self-justifying monologues that inevitably cut her sister down to size.
Well, Mindy, you could do worse. There’s Gary Lambert, the successful son in The Corrections, who’s whipped in every possible way by his wife and his three sons, and treats his decaying parents like old furniture that needs to be sent to the curb. There’s Richard from Freedom, the cool, aging rocker who betrays his oldest, best friend by sleeping with his wife. Or how about Denise Lambert, who throws away her thriving career by independently sleeping with her boss — and his wife. What does it say about me that I was felt a bond with each of these characters (though I’m not really wealthy, I like my parents, I’m not cool, I’ve never cheated, and I don’t even know my boss’s wife)?
But if I had to settle on one Franzen character, I’d reach across the gender aisle and say, Patty. I’m not going to dare say more than that. Just, Patty.
Which Franzen character latched on to your subconscious? Who do you most resemble, if you’re being completely honest?