On Monday, I blogged about the need for praise when it comes to the arts. But that’s not to say we don’t also need people willing to tear things into a million pieces when they deserve it. Someone’s got to tell the emperor that his butt’s hanging out.
Now let me say right off: I have only read enough of Jonathan Franzen to know I don’t want to read more of Jonathan Franzen, which is not a lot. I find his subjects dull, his prose puerile and his insights shallow. But since Myers went to the trouble of reading most of the book, let him tell it:
Language vies with content to be as ugly as possible. Richard’s love for Walter is described as follows: “These groinal heatings were no more about literal sex, no more homo, than the hard-ons he got from a long-anticipated first snort of blow.” Meanwhile, the author’s attempts at humor descend to the sort of puerility that Americans tolerate only when reading a so-called literary novel. A documentary about bitterns is to be called Bitternness; the pun is repeated a few times for good measure. A man with his face in a woman’s private parts can “feel one of the cats clambering onto his feet, seeking attention. Pussy, pussy.” The imagery ranges from merely passable to lazily half baked: “Gene … stirred the cauldrons like a Viking oarsman.” No doubt the author’s fans will welcome this writing because hey, it’s so much like modern America itself. If only Franzen were less aware of how much badness he can get away with.
Why was Freedom written? The prologue raises expectations for a socially engaged, or at least social, narrative that are left unmet. Too much of it takes place in high school, college, or suburbia; how odd that a kind of fiction allegedly made necessary by America’s unique vitality always returns to the places that change the least. Franzen clearly has little interest in the world of work. (The same applies, incidentally, to whoever edited the novel.)
Read the whole thing here. Really: do.