Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Franzen again

I FIND MYSELF enjoying the discourse about Jonathan Franzen more than I enjoy Franzen's actual novels. The Corrections was a fine book -- an excellent book, even -- but, to me, a degree or two less compelling than the discourse around the Oprah flap, or the broadside against Gaddis and the counter-broadside from Ben Marcus, or that piece in Granta by his (then?) girlfriend, or the piece in The Believer by the slightly-younger writer who had grown up in the same suburb and feared that Franzen had exhausted or would exhaust her town's potential as subject for fiction. I was beginning to find Franzen as cultural counter just a little more interesting than Franzen as novelist.

Then. last summer and fall, the Freedom buzz. Proclaimed a masterpiece in the NYTBR, praised in Time for saving American fiction from the ponderous involutions of David Foster Wallace and the maundering preciosities of a thousand MFAs. A minority report from across the water, as the London Review of Books refuses to go along. Then a symposium in n + 1, four of the editors weighing in... and being funnier, smarter, and more interesting than Freedom itself. Again, the discourse about Freedom is a better novel than Freedom.

But this all may be premature. I haven't finished the damned thing.

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