Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) takes on many subjects, but at its heart it’s the story of an American family living in the first part of the 21st century. Walter and Patty Berglund seem like a typical young Minneapolis couple. She’s a former college basketball star and he’s dedicated his career to environmental pursuits. When their son Joey becomes involved with the girl next door and her family, though, Patty’s behavior grows erratic. Then Walter signs on with a bird sanctuary that is actually a front for mountaintop mining, and he’s vilified in the local press. These are just the jumping off points for Franzen and his ambitious and far-reaching exploration of the American family at this point in history.
In Gary Shteyngart’s wildly and plausibly imagined future, everyone drinks alkalinized water, checks credit ratings on the public Credit Poles, and streams endless data on their own and everyone else’s health and hotness stats via apparati. The U.S. is controlled by the Bipartisan Party and the American Restoration Authority demands compliance with and denial of its existence. Some things haven’t changed, however. A grown man still feels like he’s twelve when he enters his parents’ house, and love is still hard. The SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY (Random House, $26) is the bittersweet match between aging Lenny Abramov, an Indefinite Life Extension specialist with Post-Human Services, and young, lovely Eunice Park. But social unrest, fueled by income disparity, also hasn’t changed, and the romance plays out against a revolution. Shteyngart’s third novel offers electrifying social satire, wit and sass aplenty.
The four voices that shape Julia Glass’s novel represent various pockets of modern American culture: Percy, a near octogenarian former librarian, and the widower of the title; Robert, his idealistic twenty-yearold grandson; Ira, a gay early-childhood teacher; and Celestino, an immigrant living and working illegally in the United States. Over the course of a year, their intersecting paths will have repercussions on each of their lives. Set against the backdrop of eco-terrorism, limousine liberals, and a longing for the past in the face of rapid change, THE WIDOWER’S TALE (Pantheon, $25.95) succeeds in illuminating the darkest corners of our hypocrisy and hopes, all with Glass’s characteristic tenderness and humor.