What Do You Think of Jonathan Franzen?


My skepticism has kept me away from his novels so far, for the reasons you described. However, the one thing I have read by him was really good. It was a piece for the New Yorker where he visits Masafuera (an island 500 miles off the coast of Chile,) reads Robinson Crusoe, and reflects (fairly bitterly), on the death of David Foster Wallace.


Purity is just an awful title for a novel, though.
Not a superfan, but I will take him over Tao Lin any day.
Let Franzen be Franzen, and find someones else who write about that for which you care....

Writers should write that about which they feel they'd like to write, or must write. Don't hold it against Franzen; hold it against his work, which you can like or dislike or ignore as you will, and hold it against other people who aren't as incensed at his choice of subject-matter as are you.

Beside, likely you wouldn't, but one just knows that if he wrote about other sorts of people different to him other critics would denounce him for everything from getting it wrong to imperialist cultural appropriation.

(I don't like his style or subject-matter, so I don't bother with him, but I bristle at Zhdanov-style insistence that an artist address one thing or another...easier for me to see and to take when it comes from the Right, but it's noxious.)
It's not actually the first I've heard of him, but all I know about him is that he's controversial and I don't care.
Almost chose the games editor response, but injured my hand reading a book this weekend so went with the Who
Is That choice.
So far I simply haven't been curious enough to pick up one of his books. Knowing that they're about privileged whites isn't changing that.
I mostly dislike you, Paul, but I think you're right on here. Franzen is an over-discussed mess. His essays are much better than his novels, and maybe he knows this and crams a bunch of essays into the novels.

There are often very good characters being forced into absurd situations. There are flashes of good writing underneath all the flabby flesh of sermons and wikipedia entries.

But after having read The Corrections and Freedom, I'm done with him. You should do yourself a favor and NOT read Purity. Why would you read it? You already hate him. It's sure to be covered by everyone else. You would just be going along with marketing if you read it.

He's only "important" because everyone chooses to cover him. Don't do it. Spare yourself the headache. Write about something else.

Alice Munro only writes about working-middle-class white people, but has also lived her entire life in rural and small town Canada surrounded by working-middle-class white people. Should she pull some stories about the struggles of inner city people of color out of her ass in order to appear more ambitious?

I personally don't like his writing, I find his version of desperate white people overly cliched and just plain boring. My wife likes him, though.

However, I don't really get the hate for him. Who the fuck really cares. And everything @3 says.
I haven't read Franzen's books, but from what I've read about him, he just sounds like a second generation John Cheever, so I don't get the controversial deal about him.
@12 - let me guess. You haven't read Cheever either, but from what you've read about him, he sounds a lot like this Updike guy you've also read about.

Your comment is really really annoying. "I'm completely uninformed, but commenting is free, so here I am." Worthless.
Overwrought. Bloviating. Self-important.
I enjoyed reading Freedom and The Corrections, but then again I rarely dislike anything I read.
@13, I confess to browsing Franzen and Cheever and to my eyes, boring white middle class dissatisfaction in spite of all the privileges. I'll take something like the Patrick Melrose novels that mine white bourgeoisie dysfunction and disappointment, but blow them a few a--holes in the process.

Are you Franzen's ex publicist?

Every time I try to read The Corrections, I get about 10 pages in and think: "I'll get back to this."
Freedom has some interesting perspectives. But The Affair covers similar ground and appears to be taking it a lot further.
@1: that New Yorker essay is maybe the most despicable thing he's eve….
Oh, please, let him write about what he knows. You could say the same thing about Philip Roth or Jeffrey Eugenides, but their stories are fascinating and well told. It's rare for anyone, including an upper middle class white male, to be able to write outside of his experience. Even David Guterson didn't stray too far from home. And look at the grief Tom Wolfe got for Charlotte Simmons. Don't read that genre if you want. And the reason he's widely discussed? because the vast majority of serious readers in this country are upper middle class whites. Plus, The Corrections was amazing. Perhaps the longing for a "re-do" to correct our past mistakes isn't universal, but it must be nearly so. That's what speaks even to those of us who aren't upper middle class white males. (Plus: "To anyone who saw them averting their eyes from the dark-haired New Yorkers careering past them, to anyone who caught a glimpse of Alfred's straw fedora looming at the height of Iowa corn on Labor Day, or the yellow wool of the slacks stretching over Enid's out-slung hip, it was obvious that that they were midwestern and intimidated. But to Chip Lambert, who was waiting for them just beyond the security checkpoint, they were killers." Genius.)
I've read Franzen (and Cheever and Updike - Cheever is definitely better, Updike...has shades of Franzen mediocrity - have you read Couples?) - both The Corrections and Freedom. I read the former because of the hype and the premise, which I expected to be a skewering of pretentious Post-Boomer middle-class keeping-up-with-the-Joneses (in other words, my own tribe, to a great degree). It was...blah. I hated Walter by the end, and his shitty wife was actually sympathetic. The son made no sense (and is forgotten).

I figured, well, slog through The Corrections - maybe it's brilliant and this is why all the hype for Freedom. He attempted a Big Metaphor with lots of MFA Symbolism with the stupid railroad infrastructure - some kind of post-modernist commentary - but again..the characters and situations didn't grab and the metaphor, and all the anger at the old man...just didn't make any sense. I hope he got off his chest whatever his father did to him that pissed him off so much.

Have to agree that the essays and commentary on other things are better, but I also think is choice of subject matter is on target: write what you know. Find someone who does write about your monkeysphere. You know, take another look at Cheever, who was a bisexual alcoholic and a much more colorful person than his writing (which is tight and well done) would suggest.

I heard Jane Smiley pitching her new trilogy, was drawn to it, and I haven't ready any of her stuff, so I think I'm gonna dive in there. I probably won't fool with Franzen again.
He's the Sherman Alexie of white douchebags. His jealousy of DFW was SO apparent in the post-mortem sucker punches he threw with his limp wristed little fists. Blech.
I had thought @19 was linking to this piece in The Awl about how generally full of shit Franzen is when he talks about DFW.
He writes about what he knows and what he's inspired to write. Should he write about growing up in Compton?

But it's nice that you get to fill your Slog quota by trotting out the exact same boring criticisms you did the last time he made news. Wouldn't want to expend any extra effort doing something that required anything more than knee-jerk opinion.
Tricia Lockwood's paragraph-long short story about Jonathan Franzen is everything.
@7: And yet somehow you soldiered through the pain to type the inane comment to go with it. You're so brave.

Now, what was that about Star Wars?
@19, 24. Neither of those articles really detract from what makes the Franzen article compelling. The critique that Franzen ignored an important and recent event on the island he was visiting is valid, but it makes the piece more haunting for me, rather than less. You don't have to go outside the article to feel conflicted about what Franzen is doing in it.

The article on The Awl doesn't actually say Franzen is full of shit when he talks about DFW, it just suggests that he has professional incentive and personal motivation to say what he's saying. Which he may or may not. Once again, I didn't feel like I had to go outside the Franzen article to get that impression. On the other hand, he's a successful writer that doesn't need to cash in on his friendship with his dead celebrity friend in order to make a splash.
Poor Jonathan Franzen. He's a decent writer, but he got raised up way too high by people desperate for the new great white hope. He should have lived his life as a very minor writer and a cynical curmudgeon, railing away that nobody appreciates his books because society has gone to hell. He doesn't hold a candle to DFW and he will be forgotten completely within 20 years.
Wait a minute... The main character's name is Purity?
@10 FTW.

I wonder if all you Franzen critics would be slamming him if reviewers had done so first. Or if you'd actually read his books. Eventually when it's the fashion to slam some other writer for being boring/white/middle-class/middle-brow/etc., try reading one so you'll at least know what you're talking about.
hadn't done so first.
Better than Jonathan Lethem.
I loved The Corrections because it really nails the way the old Midwestern middle-class piety morphed in the late 20th century into a new Puritanism of wealth and tasteful consumption, and ultimately it treated at least its main character humanely. But yeah, Franzen really needs to shut up about serious literature (by which he means himself) and cut the sneering. He is to some extent what he skewers.
I have refused to read Franzen ever since he was bitchy to Oprah. Not even kidding. Oprah helped bring so much worthy, underappreciated "serious fiction" to a broader audience, changing a lot of authors' lives for the better, and Franzen was such a fucking snot about not wanting an Oprah Pick sticker sullying his pwecious mastewpiece. Pricks like that aren't worth my time.
Follow up to @30: naming main character "Purity" may be the high literature equivalent to jumping the shark. Only time will tell I guess.
You are missing the mark and coming off like a self-righteous prick bibliodilletante. It can be reasonably be said that Franzen's success is the only thing you don't like about him. If you don't like people who write about middle/upper-middle class white people, you've just written off about 75% of the fiction novels out there. Unhappy people? A fully 65% of all books as well.
30/36: is it really the main character, or just the title? Using it as a title is almost cringe worthy, but naming a character Purity would be over the top.

Also, what's wrong with DFW-lite? Haters.
@38 yes, check the link. Good help is, her name is Purity. I think it's a symbol.
God help us, I meant to say.
The funny thing about white people problems is, if you're white, you just call them "problems." You'll hopefully learn that those problems aren't all that problematic, if you aren't too damn busy trying to live up to a certain set of expectations to see that the expectations, stressful as they are, are illusory, but that's a process. Art is actually how some people process this.

I don't give a rat's ass about Franzen, really, but these same kinds of complaints come up about Wes Anderson, Salinger, and a whole host of other artists. People write about what they know and/or what interests them (which is always seen through the lens of what they know). Art is going to be interesting when artists follow their interests. There may be some stray examples of people creating great art under duress, but I'd guess that's the exception, not the rule.