After reading Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel Crossroads, I have a not-original answer to the problem of the brokenness lurking behind the promise of the American Dream in the American suburbs: realistic expectations about what life in the suburbs is like.
Much is expected of the American suburbs and Americans love them for multiple reasons. They are the land of opportunity. Home to the middle-class and the hard-working. A symbol of success. A setting meant to guarantee success to future generations. The land of private single-family homes where owners can control their own destiny.
What if the suburbs could never deliver on all of these promises? What if it was only available to some? What if the humans who tried to pursue these goals still faced difficulties and heartbreak? What if the suburbs covered up a whole host of issues in American society?
Numerous novels, films, songs, and creative works have addressed these questions over the last century. They have clearly showed the cracks in the suburban facade, the tragedies masked by the suburban sprawl.
But, these works often struggle to propose a solution. Get rid of the suburbs? Do not move to them in the first place? Stop promoting them?
If anything, these works serve as a cautionary tale: the suburbs may not be as impressive as they are made out to be. They are home to the problems all humans face as well as have their own particular issues due to their histories and current realities.
At the same time, through policy and ideology, millions of Americans have moved to the suburbs. Balancing the dire stories told of life falling apart in the suburbs alongside the narratives of success and comfort in the suburbs, is there a more realistic narrative available about what suburban life is?