If I’m talking about Jonathan Franzen, and you know nothing about Jonathan Franzen, and you’ve read none of Jonathan Franzen’s books, or his essays, or any books or any essays, you should. Jonathan Franzen could discuss the qualities of a tissue for thirty pages. He doesn’t but he could. I’m sure he’d have at least a few words for paragraph summations of novels that take him ten full years to write, but I would enjoy discussing the qualities of a tissue with Jonathan Franzen, it would be such a treat. But if disputing opinions on tissues, however will crush your dreams, or if not wake you out of them, you might not want to read his stuff.
Franzen doesn’t write much about enduring triumph, or grand redemption, or has characters that you will side with emphatically; his characters are conflicting blends, which are in my opinion convincing attempts at real people. That I think is Jonathan Franzen’s best quality as a writer. He provides a passing picture of what can be a real, normal, relatable life. In Franzen’s novels, I find it hard to identify with any one character–I find myself pulled to them all at different points. As far as his competence with presenting a mood–he is intricate, specific, and detailed but runs smoothly enough in his prose that it does not distract from the story, but provides much to think about along the way through; so the subtext of course can be always deep. Franzen is an excellent writer. He gets a lot of praise for that and for good reasons. In turn of course he gets a lot of criticisms, too, such as that some will say he is too limited, that everything he writes is drenched in undertones of tragedy, that everything pertains to a perspective of upper-middle class, midwestern, protestant whites. Two frequently made criticisms that I am aware of.
Having said this, putting his literary appeal aside, Franzen is in my opinion the runaway winner for most appealing, mainstream author of our time. The guy is oodles of fun to read about, whenever he appears in interviews, if I see it I have to take a look. He always makes me laugh. Franzen is awesome. His public persona is the best that mainstream literature has to offer, which is of course never much in a world where crotch-shots, look-who-lost-twenty-pounds celebrities, look-who-cheated-on-his-wife athletes, look-who-said-this-mean-thing actors, run the whole mill of controversies in the public eye.
Franzen’s Big Leap To Fame
(The Corrections, but mainly the ‘Oprah incident’)
Oprah: “Oprah Winfrey!”
Franzen: “Oh. Hi. I recognize your voice from TV.”
[Awkward silence; deep breath from Oprah]
Oprah: “Jonathan, I love your book, and we’re going to make it our choice for the next book club!”
Franzen: “That’s really great—my publisher’s gonna be really happy,”
[Franzen said, in an even tone. They hung up soon after]
[Oprah keeps it professional—on her show]
Oprah: “A work of art and sheer genius … When critics refer to the great American novel, I think, this is it, people!”
[Franzen keeps it real, albeit if not on her show]
Franzen: “I’d been working nine years on the book and FSG had spent a year trying to make a best-seller of it. It was our thing. She (Oprah) was an interloper, coming late, and with an expectation of slavish gratitude and devotion for the favor she was bestowing.”
[Oprah keeps it realer, albeit if behind closed doors]
Oprah: “What is this guy’s problem?”
[Franzen’s a Cassandra]
Franzen: “To find myself being in the position of giving offense to someone who’s a hero — not a hero of mine per se, but a hero in general — I feel bad in a public-spirited way.”
[Franzen, with a decade to reflect on the ordeal, is still Franzen]
Franzen: “I think she was surprised that I wasn’t moaning with shock and pleasure.”
(A Bonus Point)
Franzen’s Big Three
“…We don’t know what the consequences are going to be. I take some pains to say I am not anti-technology. Technology gave us the flying buttress, the printed book and antibiotics.” -one of the most Franzen things I’ve ever heard. Free to defend technology Franzen offers us the flying buttress. The printed book, antibiotics, and–wait for it–or wait, it came first, the flying buttress. So Franzen.