There exists a common fictional narrative involving the American suburbs: the white nuclear family that looks successful from the outside – home, children who achieve, high-status communities, good jobs, well-educated, etc. – is internally falling apart. The suburban veneer is thin; when it is scratched away or falls off, the white suburban family is hurting. Such a story has been told in various forms for decades.
I have recently read several of the big novels of Jonathan Franzen. In both The Corrections and Freedom, the various members of white suburban families are not doing well and neither is the family as a whole. He switches perspectives from different family members (and some connected characters) who are experiencing both their own personal struggles and ones connected to their upbringing and those ongoing ties. The suburban homes are not happy ones; they are settings for unresolved conflicts, anger, and a sense that life should have turned out better.
Is this the same kind of suburban fiction that has been tread many times before? The settings have changed a bit – the suburbs of the 2000s are not exactly the same as the new mass produced suburbs of the 1950s, there is new technology available, etc. – and Franzen has a particular style. However, the stories felt similar to others in key ways.
(Disclaimer: I have not read all of Franzen’s work or his most recent novel set in the Chicago suburbs.)