An excerpt from 'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen

  • September 8, 2010 - 8:18 AM
That the Appalachian hardwood forest was among the world's most biodiverse temperate ecosystems, home to a variety of tree species and orchids and freshwater invertebrates whose bounty the high plains and sandy coasts could only envy, wasn't readily apparent from the roads they were traveling. The land here had betrayed itself, its gnarly topography and wealth of extractable resources discouraging the egalitarianism of Jefferson's yeoman farmers, fostering instead the concentration of surface and mineral rights in the hands of the out-of-state wealthy, and consigning the poor natives and imported workers to the margins: to logging, to working in the mines, to scraping out pre- and then, later, post-industrial existences on scraps of leftover land which, stirred by the same urge to couple as had now gripped Walter and Lalitha, they'd overfilled with tightly spaced generations of too-large families. West Virginia was the nation's own banana republic, its Congo, its Guyana, its Honduras. The roads were reasonably picturesque in summer, but now, with the leaves still down, you could see all the scabby rock-littered pastures, the spindly canopies of young second growth, the gouged hillsides and mining-damaged streams, the spavined barns and paintless houses, the trailer homes hip-deep in plastic and metallic trash, the torn-up dirt tracks leading nowhere.

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