John le Carré, Jonathan Franzen, Where We Are

Grand pronouncements are tricky but they’re tons of fun, aren’t they, and maybe it’s because I’ve finally gotten around to picking up Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which seems full of grand pronouncements or at least the promise of them, but last Thecorrectionscvrnight, listening to John le Carré on Fresh Air talk about where he thinks we are in modern Western history (in relation to the early Cold War days), this struck me as truthful and a lot sad, too:

“Back then, we had a clear philosophy which we thought we were protecting, and it was a notion of the West. It was a notion of individual freedom, of inclusiveness, of tolerance. All of that we called anti-communism. That was really a broad brush. Because there were plenty of innocent people living in communist countries who weren’t as bad as one might suppose. But now, today, this present time in which these matters are being reconsidered, we seem to have no direction. We seem to be joined by nothing very much except fear and bewilderment about what the future holds. We have no coherent idealogy in the West. We used to believe in the great American example. I think that’s recently been profoundly underminded for us. We’re alone.”

He’s talking more or less about England, but he’s also talking about the postwar Western idea, of, essentially, liberalism, too. Really big picture stuff. Maybe I need to stop trying to make sense of Trump and Brexit fourteen times a day. It’s happened, and likely it was happening for many years. The backlash against the idea of helping each other, of being on the same team. Now, it’s: fuck you, Belgium, fuck you, Sweden (but, you know, hi, Russia). It all makes me so sad.

The Corrections really is very good so far, though. I know that’s not groundbreaking news. I don’t know why I put it off for so long. The size of it, maybe, and the foreboding sense I get with books that I know are going to be deep dives into sad, anxious families. But it’s a sprawling beautiful mess, too, and those are good. We need more of those.

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