Friday, March 23, 2012

Barren in Books: Freedom, until you die in a terrible car wreck

There have been lots of non-fiction books about childlessness by choice, but Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is the first novel I've read that features a character, Lalitha, who is childless by choice.  She shows up about halfway through the book, a twenty-something assistant in an environmental organization that finds its raison d’etre in lobbying to slow population growth.  Her fervor for the cause shows up in her proclamation that she does not want to have children, and the literary GINK (Green Inclinations, No Kids) was born.  Here she is with the book's protagonist, Walter, discussing the topic with his old friend, Richard Katz.  Walter starts:

"...We just want to make having babies more of an embarrassment.  Like smoking's an embarrassment.  Like being obese is an embarrassment.  Like driving an Escalade would be an embarrassment if it weren't for the kiddie argument.  Like living in a four-thousand-square foot house on a two-acre lot should be an embarrassment."

"'Do it if you have to,'" Lalitha said, "'but don't expect to be congratulated anymore.'  That's the message we need to spread."

Katz looked into her crackpot eyes.  "You don't want kids yourself."

"No," she said, holding his gaze.

"You're, what, twenty-five?"


"You might feel differently in five years.  The oven timer goes off around age thirty.  At least that's been my experience with women."

"It won't be mine," she said and widened, for emphasis, her already very round eyes.

The GINK is not a type I relate to much.  My own decision not to have children was nowhere near as principled, although at the time I longed for some kind of principle on which to offload the responsibility of that choice.  A deep-seeded belief system was attractive in the face of my amorphous ambivalence, and I guess this is why I am mildly suspicious of GINKs.  At the risk of being normative, I don’t trust that such a personal decision can be adequately addressed via any variety of dogma.

In Freedom we never get to find out if Lalitha’s childless stance lasts beyond her twenties.  Franzen dashes her into the side of a West Virginia mountain, killing her off before she gets interesting.   Prior to that Franzen doesn’t do much to enhance the reputation of the childless by choice either.  Lalitha is likable, but she also seduces her married boss, Walter, while living under the same roof with him and his wife.  Between the environmental causes and the childless stance and the affair, it wouldn't take much for a Fox News commentator to spin her into the sort of leftie home wrecker that right wing America loves to hate.  Maybe next time Franzen can make up the slight by offering us a more believable childless character.  I am thinking a DINK.  After all, money is the ultimate socially acceptable principle.

Other Barren in Books posts:
On Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
On Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman

No comments:

Post a Comment