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By: Franzen, Jonathan
Price: $28.00

Franzen frames his story through the eyes of neighbors, observers physically close but emotionally at a remove. What's impressive to my mind about Franzen's choice to begin and end at this distance is that the interpretive judgment of neighbors turns out to be pretty good and yet always askew. But for the rest of us at our privileged closer vantage points, Franzen has provided a lot of observational data -- more than 500 pages worth -- so that we can see those little markings that make all the difference. While trying to hold moral binoculars up for so long can make the characters wobble between likeability and ickiness, the development of the muscles of sympathy and judgment it encourages is all to the good -- if we can avoid relaxing into the comforts of smugness which Franzen sometimes also puts on display. It's our choice: readers, after all, have certain freedoms, too.