Trying to give myself a crash course in Jonathan Franzen having ignored him forever as probably a bit boring. Now realise that was a bit unfair and he seems like a smart guy so trying to find out what he’s about. (Vaguely conflate Franzen/David Mitchell in my head; similarly arbitrary dislike of latter confused recently by the unexpected plus Eggers pimping Mitchell as a ‘fearless’ writer and the expected neg of flicking through the book and seeing some language that bugged me (innumerable “The [odd occupation, e.g. concubine, herbalist, spice-wrangler] [kooky-foreign-name, e.g. Aibagawa, Kawasemi, Arishiyama] [verb] [adverb] combinations), with the result being I’m not sure what to think about him but probably still won’t be reading his stuff.)
Also I have to write about Franzen’s views on American lit for this chapter I’m writing.
So I read ‘Mr Difficult’ yesterday. Thought there’d be more chatting shit on the writers he didn’t like tbh. He seems to genuinely have wanted to like Gaddis, and obviously loves The Recognitions. Hype around the article made me think he was ripping it apart. One thing he is really good at is concisely and persuasively explaining why he thinks a book is good (or not).
Lean and economical? JR suffers from the madness it attempts to resist. The first ten pages and the last ten pages and every ten pages in between bring the ‘news’ that American life is shallow, fraudulent, venal, and hostile to artists. But there never has been and never will be a reader who is unpersuaded of this ‘news’ on page 10 but persuaded on page 726. The novel becomes as chilly, mechanistic, and exhausting as the System it describes. Its world is ruled by corporate white men who pursue their work with pleasureless zeal, casually sideline women and minorities, and invent difficult insider languages to discourage newcomers: how oddly like the book itself!
Then I read his short story ‘The Failure’ last night in a Wonderful Town New Yorker collection I have. Aging New York hipster hosts his parents for a brief stopover in Manhattan. Clash of cultures. Sexual dysfunction. Thwarted ambitions. Some kind of a ‘postmodern’ collage thing going on where he integrates a concordance of all the breast references in the guy’s screenplay, but mostly pretty ‘straight’. Overall thing going on is the guy being basically a total dick and resenting his parents, exes, sister — anyone who isn’t himself. American solipsism.
‘Mr Difficult’ published in the New Yorker in 2002. ‘The Failure’ also in the New Yorker, in 1999.
That sentence above has no implied meaning.
Now I’m about to read ‘Perchance to Dream’ from Harper’s in 1996. Subtitle: ‘In the age of images, a reason to write novels’.
Filed under: reading