Juli Weiner sniped in Vanity Fair at Jonathan Franzen for dedicating his novel “Freedom” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) to his publisher and his agent, implying he might not be on the cover of Time magazine or even ever heard of were it not for them. That could be said of many authors, both major and minor, including those who write for Vanity Fair. You’ll find more than 50 copies of Franzen’s works in the Albuquerque public library system.
Lev Grossman wrote in Time magazine’s cover story that “Franzen isn’t the richest or most famous living American novelist, but you could argue — I would argue — that he is the most ambitious and also one of the best. His third book, ‘The Corrections,’ published in 2001, was the literary phenomenon of the decade. His fourth novel, ‘Freedom,’ will arrive at the end of August. Like ‘The Corrections,’ it’s the story of an American family, told with extraordinary power and richness.”
Veteran critic Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times: “In the past, Mr. Franzen tended to impose a seemingly cynical, mechanistic view of the world on his characters, threatening to turn them into authorial pawns subject to simple Freudian-Darwinian imperatives. This time, in creating conflicted, contrarian individuals capable of choosing their own fates, Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet — a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times.”
Here’s Franzen in an excerpt released by the publisher: “. . . in Merrie’s opinion, if you were to scratch below the nicey-nice surface you might be surprised to find something rather hard and selfish and competitive and Reaganite in Patty; it was obvious that the only things that mattered to her were her children and her house – not her neighbors, not the poor, not her country, not her parents, not even her own husband.” – Copyright © 2010 by Jonathan Franzen
Yes, an indelible portrait of our times. But the lasting taste of contemporary literature need not be bile, though the time in which one lives be distasteful. Examiner, in currently re-reading William Faulkner’s “Light in August” revels in the simplicity of the rhythm of his language – “. . . thinking as he had thought before and would think again and as every other man thought: how false the most profound book turns out to be when applied to life.”
Whether an indelible portrait of our times comes from Jonathan Franzen, Thomas Pynchon or Roberto Bolaño, it’s the writing that counts. In which case, Franzen finishes a very long-distant third, reminding us of Janis Joplin singing “Me and Bobby McGee” – where “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
“So everything lets us down, including curiosity and honesty and what we love best. Yes, said the voice, but cheer up, its fun in the end.”
— Roberto Bolaño (2666)