1. Paula Fox = Joan Didion if Joan Didion lived in Brooklyn in 1968
Their characters are similar: witty, bitter, well-to-do, bored and guilty in matrimony. There's that similar sense of nothing is ever enough. Both writers are so good at not only sharp dialogue, but making clear what's left unsaid, what can't be said. It's like nothing that anyone says means as much as what's concealed.
From Play It As It Lays:
There were things he could say but because she did not know if he would say them or even if she wanted to hear them she just sat in the car behind the 76 station in Baker and studied the pay phone by the Coke machine. Whatever he began by saying he would end by saying nothing. He would say something and she would say something and before either of them knew it they would be playing out a dialogue so familiar that it drained the imagination, blocked the will, allowed them to drop words and whole sentences and still arrive at the cold conclusion.
He would continue to ask her, she thought, and she would continue to be unable to tell him. (121)
After a while she said, "Never mind what I say."
"I can't," he replied quietly. "I don't and I can't." (142)
He knew she must be awake. But he would not speak her name. He would not say anything at all. Sometimes, over the years, that had happened, his not wanting to talk to her. It didn't mean he was angry. But sometimes, after a movie or a play or the company had gone home, he simply didn't want to talk to her. (144)
Of course, Otto doesn't hate Sophie like Carter hates Maria.
2. In the introduction Franzen writes, "Sophie flees from one potential haven to another, and each in turn fails to protect her..." I see that, but by the end it's clear that she has this hunger for drama, for tragedy even, for something to happen to her which will disrupt the monotony of the "rather vacant progression of the days..." But nothing tragic happens. She isn't heroic. It's pathetic and yet embarrassingly relatable -- don't we all daydream about car accidents and brain cancer and other surmountable obstacles that rarely actually happen to us. When the book ends Sophie and Otto are still safe and there's just another stain to wipe of the wall.
3. What can I say about the cat. Everyone's always quoting the cat scene in which it bites her, but I think the writing's better in the scene in which they have to capture the cat because I could barely even read it without putting the book down. It made me sick, which, I guess, is a sign of good writing. Yes, overall I'd say I liked the book for the writing, the really intelligent sentences, but felt no attachment to Sophie like I usually do with Didion's women.
It's pathetic and yet embarrassingly relatable -- don't we all daydream about car accidents and brain cancer and other surmountable obstacles that rarely actually happen to us. When the book ends Sophie and Otto are still safe and there's just another stain to wipe of the wall.
The trouble I had with the plot is that the world was often as bad as Sophie imagines: the rock thrown through the window; the pet abuse down the street; everything with the house on Long Island; all the ominous and dangerous poor/minority folks surrounding them. I like the idea of all of her societal, personal, and physical anxieties coming to a head (I could imagine a story set in Bosnia in the late 90s or Iraq now - or anywhere in upheaval - where the same thing happens), but somehow the story never quite came to life for me. It's not that the story needed redemption or goodness, but that it felt more like a paranoid and subjective nightmare than a plausible reality.