31 January 2013

I’m currently reading Carry the One by Carol Anshaw. It is the February selection for the Books and Bars book club. On the night of Carmen’s wedding, a car driven by her brother’s girlfriend and filled with various relatives and wedding attendees hits and kills a ten year old girl. The novel follows the characters involved in the accident, and explores the ways in which their lives are interconnected after the accident.

The book is in some ways reminiscent of a Franzen novel. The characters are artsy/political types from the Midwest. One of the sisters is a painter, one is a political activist who works at a center for down and out women, and the brother is a drug addled astronomy wiz who needs to be a carpenter to pay the bills. The characters would fit easily into a Franzen novel.

I wonder if anything can be said of the Midwesterness of these novels. Certainly the authors are both from the Midwest and write about the Midwest, but could their characters just as easily be from other parts of the country? Franzen bases his characters’ Midwesterness in their family history. The Lamberts’ conventional upbringing is the central conflict in The Corrections. In Anshaw’s book, however, the characters come from an artistic family.

The two authors offer an interesting study for exploring Midwesterness in fiction. Franzen is self conscious about Midwestern stereotypes and deals with them in his fiction. Anshaw’s characters seem like they could just as easily be from Boston, as Chicago. By comparing various traits, one could perhaps make some conclusions about the Midwestern type.

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