Monday, September 23, 2013

Jonathan Franzen: literary fiction’s Grumpy Cat


I did read a Jonathan Franzen book once, honest. I’m pretty sure it was The Corrections and I think I enjoyed it – I certainly finished it – but, you know what, I can’t remember the first bloody thing about it. I do know it’s about a family but every time I think I recall it, I’m really remembering All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. It’s like literary Olestra, slipping through without leaving a trace. And it’s not just me; I’ve spoken to several other people for whom Franzen’s saving grace is that he’s not bad enough to be memorable.

That’s his fiction, of course. When he gets himself entangled in real life he becomes far more memorable; see the saga of the swiped spectacles. And now he’s come up with a long screed about how the modern world is rubbish and the internet is a bad thing, mostly. By long, I’m talking over 6,000 words, which – as JF is obviously aware – is far too much for our tiny 140-character minds to cope with. tl;dr, as the young persons might say (and I’m sure a little bit of Franzen dies every time they do).

But the horrid interwebnets do serve Franzen well in one respect. Whereas 20 years ago such an essay might have prompted a correspondence in the Guardian’s letters page that tailed off after a few days, in 2013 his thoughts are picked up, picked apart and passed on over and over, here and here and here and here and here and here and... Sometimes people agree, very often not, but each article and blog post about what he says serves to a greater or lesser extent as a plug for his new book (many copies of which will be shifted by Amazon, even though in his piece Franzen describes Jeff Bezos as a horseman of the apocalypse). But in order to do this, the author must whore himself out to the digital punter he so loathes. He is no longer an author. He is a meme.

6 comments:

blackwatertown said...

Jonathan bit my finger.

emmat said...

I'm actually beginning to enjoy how he's become the 'literary' novelist it's ok not to have read. I read some earlier novels of his - like there's actually one about the dangers of fracking!! And it drove me a bit mad. My inability to let go of him is to do with the fact that clearly David Foster Wallace who I do SOoooooo rate, was rather attached to him. For some reason, because of this, I cannot assign him zero significance even though i want to...

Vicus Scurra said...

tl;dr

Pearl said...

I, too, read The Corrections. I seem to recall enjoying it, and yet couldn't tell you much about it...

Pearl

Tim Footman said...

And I'm sure you deserved it, BWT.

Oh don't get me started on DFW, Emma. One of these days I'll finish Infite Jest, honest. When I'm done with IQ84 and any number of other chunky tomes...

Sorry, Vicus, I forget that teenagers such as yourself have such short attention sp ooh, puppies!

It's weird, isn't it, Pearl? Thinking of the Witches of Eastwick, where everybody meets the new guy in town (who is Satan) but nobody can remember his name. Or was that in something else?

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

No you are right, Tim Footman, that was Witches of Eastwick. Unfortunately, I have no idea about anything else in this post but, hey, this is why we go on the internet, right? To improve ourselves? I shall go read "The Corrections" immediately, enjoy it, and forget it.