Although I didn't love the novel enough to re-read it, there are a few passages from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (winner of the 2001 National Book Award) that have stuck with me. One of my favorites follows:
It had started as a family joke: Dad always orders the mixed grill in restaurants, Dad only wants to go to restaurants with mixed grill on the menu. To Gary there was indeed something endlessly delicious, something irresistibly luxurious, about a bit of lamb, a bit of pork, a bit of veal, and a lean and tender modern-style sausage or two -- a classic mixed grill, in short. It was such a treat that he began to do his own mixed grills at home. Along with pizza and Chinese takeout and one-pot pasta meals, mixed grill became a family staple. ... before long, Gary was doing mixed grill two or even three times a week, braving all but the foulest weather on the deck, and loving it. ... He loved it and loved it and loved it and then all at once he didn't. ...
On the deck, in the radiant heat, as he blackened the prawns and seared the swordfish, a weariness overtook him. The aspects of his life not related to grilling now seemed like mere blips of extraneity between the poundingly recurrent moments when he ignited the mesquite and paced the deck, avoiding smoke. Shutting his eyes, he saw twisted boogers of browning meats on a grilled of chrome and hellish coals. The eternal broiling, broiling of the damned. The parching torments of compulsive repetition. On the inner walls of the grill a deep-pile carpet of phenolic black greases had accumulated. The ground behind the garage where he dumped the ashes resembled a moonscape or the yard of a cement plant. He was very, very, very sick of mixed grill.
In the book, this passage is a not especially subtle symbol for Gary's marriage and family life, which is falling apart. But what I've always loved about the passage (aside from the hilarious phrase "broiling of the damned") is how effectively it captures the counterintutive truth that excessive indulgence in something almost always leads to loathing of that thing.
I've experienced this in my own life with food, music, books, movies, and games. It happens so mysteriously: one day, I love a certain song or piece of music more than anything else. I want to hear it constantly. I listen to it over and over again. Then, suddenly, without warning, its appeal is gone. I might listen to it again after some time has passed. I might even appreciate it. But I will never again experience that intense, almost obsessive, craving to hear it.
What causes us to reach that saturation point? I haven't noticed any pattern to how long it takes the object of my devotion -- whether it be edible, musical, or otherwise -- to lose its magic. But it always happens eventually, and without warning. Maybe it's some sort of instinctive regulation, an enforced moderation, for the purpose of self-preservation. I can't explain it. But I do know I have to mourn a little each time this happens to me.Posted by at October 19, 2004 8:23 PM