Jonathan Franzen is everywhere. They call it franzenfrenzy, franzenfreude, franzenfury. The President of the US of A was given an advance copy and now the entire country is confused: is it on sale or not? People are getting angry; there might even be a strike or a mini Franzolution. All his talks sell out in minutes, people are willing to travel from all over the country to anywhere in the country to catch a glimpse of the Franzen. He has become literature’s raison d’entre.
Freedom is, apparently, the latest of the Great American Novels (GAN), which Jodi Picoult (best-selling chick-lit author) heavily disapproves of, saying on twitter, ‘Would love to see the NYT [New York Times] rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.’ The wheel has been set in motion, though. Franzen is god and the literary world is clinging to him like a newborn baby. Obsessed with small, Midwestern American families, struggling through difficult times in difficult times, one would imagine that Freedom is even longer than the 700 odd pages of The Corrections. After all, there is all sort of decade-defining, life-changing and general social criticism to write about since his last book was published 9 years ago.
I propose granting Franzen some sort of autonomous right to world control. Franz: a European country renowned for existentialism, wine and baguette. The Tour de Franz: a crazy cycling race that surely only drugged up people could even contemplate of undertaking, never mind finishing. Tour de franz: an expression meaning exceptional creative achievement. Wouldn’t that be Frantastic? Or how about a social networking site called Franzbook? Rewriting a bestseller as Alice in Franzenland? No wonder Kafka was such a great writer with a name like that.
Freedom will undoubtedly be high up the bestsellers list. Franzen manages that rare feat of being both critically and commercially successful, The Corrections having shifted a good three million copies worldwide. Everyone will read him and most people won’t understand him. He will probably be described as ‘depressing’, ‘sad’ and ‘pessimistic’. Yet everyone will be franzically try to get a hold of his book. There will probably even be a franzternity for high-brow, überintelligent bookworms.
Seeing as he always writes about families perhaps we could refer to them as franzilies from now on? He has been said to explore the dynamics of American culture through the depiction of an everyday family – I think it would only be fair. Or how about the afranzmentioned book of his, The Corrections, which I am now reading because all the hype is just getting too much for me. I believe there is a way for Franzen to mean everything (and hence, nothing). One word and one name for everything. Jonathan Franzen.
Joking aside. What must really drive people mad is the fact that his books – as far as I can tell – really are fantastic, that there is no other way to describe them other than to say tour de force blah blah. That franzenfrenzy and franzenfury are more than justified tributes. That if you are a female author and want to be referred to as a literally darling then stop writing two meaningless books a year and try writing one meaningful book every nine years (Picoult, not ALL female writers). That’s how long it might take to think, observe, analyse and write it down. That in order to be someone unique you have to write something unique. That in order to be respected you have to do something respectable.
In The Corrections Franzen writes about being a prisoner of contemporary culture; a culture devoid of meaning and values, and he does so with aplomb and style. Near the end of the first chapter there is a sentence that spans two pages and 35 lines but it reads majestically: it flows as naturally as anything I have ever read. I believe the hype and I can’t wait for Franzdom (aka Freedom).
Check out Matthias Mueller’s excellent Cultural Constellations blog
More to come.