Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jonathan Franzen, _Freedom_ (interim report)

I HAVEN'T ACTUALLY finished this. I expect I will, perhaps in May, but I got through Patty Berglund's autobiography and decided to give the novel a rest for a bit. As I read, I was increasingly bothered that Patty, supposedly a person who writes and reads little, is a masterful stylist. Occasionally Franzen gives her a clunky, graceless passage, but more often she writes like someone who has devoted her life to shaping sentences and structuring narratives... which, in the realm of the novel, she has not. Her discourse is that of a person who could not conceivably exist. Interesting though her circumstances and conflict are, the further along I read, the more Patty seemed as fabulous as a hippogriff.

I imagine readers are not supposed to notice how well Patty writes, as we are not supposed to notice that Shakespeare's characters have mastered blank verse. A suspension-of-disbelief sort of thing. Okay, but didn't Bakhtin show us that the novel-ness of the novel lay in its self-awareness about its own discourses?

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