Psychological Pop Quiz: Are You Having a Suburban, American Breakdown?


Jonathan Franzen’s

delivers the same jolt of expertly wielded misery that made his break-out novel

such a success. The Time magazine-anointed author‘s latest take on the disorder known as the modern family is masterfully crafted, while forcing its readers to confront the sorrowful skeletons in their own closets. Freedom‘s study of a familial meltdown at the hands of infidelity, depression, and alcoholism sure ain’t pretty, but it’s chock full of unsettling reflections that echo of familiar dysfunction. And it’s with this in mind, that we have prepared the following diagnostic test to determine if you, like the unfortunate citizens of Franzen’s fictional world, are having a suburban, American breakdown.

On drinking: A. My typical afternoon consists of “public radio the Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then Zinfandel.” B. “It wasn’t alcoholism, it was self-defense” is eerily close to what I would plead if my life were on trial. C. A drop of whiskey in the bottle keeps the baby quiet at night ̵ and helps build an early alcohol tolerance, too. D. I enjoy a drink from time to time, but really I could take it or leave it.

On suburban ennui: A. “A fever of self-pitying alienation” had seeped into the “biotically desolate countryscape of the sort that America had come to specialize in.” B. The degree to which I care about how my house looks on the outside is equal only to the level of emotional rot within. C. The opening jingle to Weeds might as well be the theme song to my life. D. Moving out of the city has given my family an even deeper sense of togetherness and well-being.

On depression: A. Things have gotten so bad that “only a descent into an outright orgy of badness can redeem them.” B. A jolly game of b-ball once devolved into proof of “the futility of struggle.” C. Even my dreams bum me out. D. I sleep rather well at night and wake up ready to embrace the new day.

On fidelity: A. I once had a moment of revelation while rifling through toilet turds in search of the wedding ring I swallowed before going on a trip with a woman who wasn’t my wife. B. My bride thinks the most intriguing thing about me is the throbbing carelessness with which my best friend schtups her. C. I opt for the “raw sort of pornography that [bears] no relation to human emotion.” D. The only person who can ignite my loins is my spouse.

On being batshit crazy: A. I feel like one day I’m bringing my neighbors cookies and the next I’m slashing their tires. B. If a cat dies on my block, people suspect me of offing it. C. I once went to the grocery store to buy dinner provisions and came back with three magic beans instead. D. My community looks on me as a pillar of equanimity and good cheer.

If you chose mostly A’s, B’s, or C’s: You’d better invest in a wine cellar and a good therapist, because you, dear reader, are having a full-fledged suburban, American breakdown. For ladies, this means that it’s time to “get some experience with other kinds of men, and generally acquire more maturity before embarking on being a mother,” while menfolk need to arrive at some real clarity in order to avoid being the guy who has to fish his wedding ring out of a toilet full of excrement.” But fret not! According to Franzen, you’re merely “the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street,” which, in some circles, is known as a trendsetter (and in others, a bad influence). Either way, you’re bound for trouble so kick back and hang on for the ride.

If you chose mostly D’s: It sounds like you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Go fetch a warm glass of milk and cuddle up to your angelic kids. And don’t forget to remind yourself: boring is the new black.