by Jonathan Franzen
Sex Quotes in Freedom
How we cite our quotes: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
The mute fact of his sweet Connie having lain down with some middle-aged pig, of her having taken off her jeans and her little underpants and opened her legs repeatedly, had embodied itself in words only long enough for her to speak them and for Joey to her them before returning to muteness and lodging inside him, out of reach of words, like some swallowed ball of razor blades. He could see, reasonably enough, that she might care no more about her pig of a manager than he'd cared about the girls, all of them either drunk or extremely drunk, in whose overly perfumed beds he'd landed in the previous year, but reason could no more reach the pain in him than thinking Stop! could arrest an onrushing bus. The pain was quite extraordinary. (3.5.182)
This is a powerful representation of how easy it is to value one's own freedom over other people's. We can find examples of this double standard everywhere in this book, and in our daily lives. So Joey, of course, feels just fine with cheating on Connie with other women, not thinking anything of it. As soon as she turns around and does something similar, though, he sure doesn't like that very much at all. To his credit, he's able to see how irrational his thinking is, but logic isn't nearly powerful enough to stop him from feeling it.
Up in Lalitha's slope-ceilinged little room, the onetime maid's quarters, which he hadn't visited since she'd moved in, and whose floor was an obstacle course of clean clothes in stacks and dirty ones in piles, he pressed her against the side wall of the dormer and gave himself blindly to the one person who wanted him without qualification. It was another state of emergency, it was no hour of no day, it was desperate. [...] [A]nd then one of those pauses descended, an uneasy recollection of how universal the ascending steps to sex were; how impersonal, or pre-personal. He pulled away abruptly, toward the unmade single bed, and knocked over a pile of books and documents relating to overpopulation. (3.6.163)
This passage has a lot going on. The description of Lalitha's room is crucial, reminding us that Walter is both her boss and her landlord, and she, in the tiny maid's quarters, is thus, kind of like his servant. Although later (more explicit) passages will make clear that in many ways she's the more powerful figure in their relationship, here we see how fragile Walter is emotionally – needing, more than anything else, to know she wants him. Two more brief things to take note of: 1) the general statement about sexual passion (coupled nicely with the use of the word "blindly" above), and 2) Franzen's wry humor in having the couple knock over a pile of books about overpopulation on their way to taking their clothes off and, well, you know.