Thursday, September 9, 2010
Jonathan Franzen's new book is out. Like "The Corrections" (2001), the novel that won Franzen the Pulitzer Prize, "Freedom" is also a sprawling satirical examination of the dysfunctional American family in the waning days of the empire. The book is garnering rave reviews. Reviewers are calling Franzen the greatest living American novelist. Not bad, eh? Now he can finally quit his day job and get down to some serious writing.
Flashback: After some initial, odd experimental works, "The Corrections" made Franzen a household word. The book was surprisingly good. It won prizes and huge sacks of money, and even earned a stamp of approval from Oprah herself--which resulted in a huge fight with Oprah, which resulted in more publicity than any recent work of literary fiction has enjoyed in years. As if the Pulitzer weren't enough.
Anyway, I read "The Corrections," and enjoyed it, and now I'm reading "Freedom." Franzen does certain things very well, and he's doing them again. He has a knack for modern detail and language, and while the novel feels very contemporary, very NOW, he's not afraid to employ the architectonics of the Victorian novel to tell his tale. In fact, that may be the conceit of the book. In this age of short attention spans this elaborate structure has fallen out of fashion, but somehow Franzen pulls it off, hearkening back to the nineteenth century classics, even alluding to War and Peace on more than one occasion. He's tipping his hand, of course, and while he may never be Tolstoy (or even our Tolstoy), he's ambitious as hell and that makes reading the novel an exhilarating experience. He's striving for greatness.
Ron Charles of the Washington Post agrees for the most part, but he's not uncritical of the book. Here is his strange video and a link to the full Post review.
For another view, and to hear Franzen interviewed, link to Studio 360.