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Joseph Michael Reynolds

Thanks, Mannion. I am so glad you're doing this. I am just too tired to take it up. For me, the necessary effort would also be a mug's game. Lean in on it, lad, turn that greasy wheel.

redactor

I have bought Freedom, but I haven't started it yet; I'm about halfway through The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and nothing is going to stand between me and finishing that. But seriously, no laughs in The Corrections? You must have been in a really bad mood, is all I can say.

Bill Altreuter

I liked The Twenty-Seventh City but I think it stands as to Franzen's work as Dangling Man ad The Victim stand to Bellows-- it is a warm-up, an exercise in craft that only peripherally addresses the themes which currently are occupying the authors' focus. Hate, hate, hated The Corrections. It was well done, but the characters were despicable. I suppose that was the point, but I think it is a novel that is unlikely to occupy the attention of graduate students 25 years from now.

It's been a while since I had a look at Cozzens. Maybe I should re-read The Last Adam.

DupinTM

Ahem. From the eXile, circa 2002:
http://exiledonline.com/jonathan-franzen-will-rim-bobos-for-book-of-the-month-fame/

"Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, billed as a masterpiece, is a worthless fraud, a hopelessly trite story gaudied up with tedious overwriting. The overwriting is meant to conceal the fact that this novel is a simple mix of three of the most hackneyed storylines in American fiction:

1. The picaresque adventures of a feckless male academic, borrowed from DeLillo;
2. The sentimental tale of the decay and death of one’s parents as in Dave Eggers’s “masterpiece”;
3. The old, old plot device of the family Christmas reunion to bring the centrifugal parents and kids back together again against all odds, as in every sentimental John Hughes movie ever made and about a thousand more before him.

That, folks, is all there is to this mess: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation meets dying-parents memoir meets Manhattanite satire Lite. God help me, but that’s it!"

He's the James Frey of SERIOUS, IMPORTANT Novelists. He got his marketing right.

Doug K

That's a subtle and useful point about good jokes. I first read Moby Dick on my own without benefit of clergy (literary critics) so didn't know any better than to find it funny. For Conrad too it seems the case the novels that aren't full of amusement are also the sentimental and less true ones - Chance, The Arrow of Gold, etc (confess to being a romantic sentimentalist myself, so still can derive great pleasure from them).

Never read Franzen yet, exactly because he's supposed to be IMPORTANT and I have a disinclination toward fashionable modern novelists. That's a prejudice I suppose I should be working against, but vita brevis.

Dave MB

Ms. Weiner must not be very familiar with German -- the "freude" in "Schadenfreude" means "joy", as in "Freude, schoner gotterfunken" and all that. So "Franzenfreude" should mean "taking joy in Franzen", not its opposite.

coozledad

I'm with you on the jokes. The ones that aren't just funny, but dog mean. In that respect,Hilary Mantel has written everyone's ass into the ground for a long time to come.

Lance

Bill, good comparison, vis a vis Dangling Man. Re: Cozzens. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many of his books are still in print. The Just and the Unjust is the one I'd like to see endure.

 M. George Stevenson

Three things from a longtime admirer: 1)Glad someone corrected the German -- what you have is, I believe, more properly rendered as SchadenFranzen; 2) Regarding your evaluation of Franzen, I'm with redactor; 3) Getting het up about literary reputation as portrayed in the organs of establishment publishing is about as useful and taking them as gospel. And while Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult have a point, it's rather like Marilyn Monroe's in All About Eve. MOST of what get's published by big name houses is terrible and always will be and, especially in today's market, worrying that the establishment is making an error in promoting actual literary talent is beside the point. As Gore Vidal quoted a sage relation as saying, upon hearing about how many copies were sold of a Vidal's "bestseller," it is astonishing that anyone could sell so little of anything in America as publishers sell of books.

actor212

I'm curious, Lance. Did you read the article?

While, yes, the magazine is clearly covering Franzen as if he is a news event, well, it's more because Time picked him to showcase how novels are written now, and how Franzen bucks the trend. What goes into them. Why Franzen and his cohorts (like the late David Foster Wallace) have changed what a novel is, for good and bad.

Here's the article. The author does admit his admiration for JF, so there's a bit of fawning, but when I read the article, I didn't walk away with a desire to buy The Corrections or Freedom. I just understood one of the more important authors of our time a little better.

Yes, there are probably women authors (Picoult comes to mind) who deserve a Time cover. But it's hard to argue with the choice of Franzen.

FormerlyApostate

Wouldn't you say Dickens is as big a sentimentalist as any? Not that I don't love and adore him.

And stuff HAPPENS in Franzen's books -- certainly stuff happens. Especially in the 27th City. But I don't believe him when he tells me it happened. It's bizarre stuff. It happens for the sake of happening.

I liked The Corrections because that stuff about lonely mothers always gets me, and has fooled me many a time into thinking something is good literature simply because it has made me cry.

I find Franzen irritating though and am done reading his books. Besides The Corrections, I haven't even remotely liked anything he's done.

Lance

redactor: But seriously, no laughs in The Corrections? You must have been in a really bad mood, is all I can say.

George M. Stevenson: Regarding your evaluation of Franzen, I'm with redactor

Redactor, almost certainly. I was dealing with my first case of Franzenfreude or, as George and DaveMB point out, I should say, SchadenFranzen. The Corrections was hyped as IMPORTANT too.

I re-read some of The Corrections and selections from Freedom before I posted this one though. Still couldn't find any good jokes.

actor212, Yes, I read the article. The article's fine, in itself, but there's no reading it in itself. It's the COVER story. But my point isn't that Franzen isn't a good writer or even that he's an over-rated one or that Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult deserve equal time (I can name about 50 writers more deserving than either of them. But so can they). My point is that judging a writer by his IMPORTANCE or reading a novel because it's IMPORTANT is the least fun and dullest way to approach fiction outside of a class taught by a diehard deconstructionist. I don't enjoy Franzen's stuff but because of the way he's been pushed I can't enjoy it. And the pushing began within intellectual circles before The Corrections, although back then it had to due with Franzen's being friends with another IMPORTANT writer, David Foster Wallace.

Formerly, you know how much I love Dickens, but you're right he can be the Sentimentalist in Chief. But what makes him different, and IMHO so much greater, than other sentimentalists is that he's also a comic writer. That's really another category. And in his stories it's not the case that the tragedy is there behind the comedy or the comedy there behind the tragedy. He puts them both onstage at the same time. Krook's spontaneous combustion in Bleak House is horrifying but part of its horror is Guppy and Weevle's comic reaction to it.

As for things happening in Franzen's work, I was actually talking more about how Tolstoy works, which is in scenes that could be played out as written on stage or in the movies. The opening chapters of Anna Karenina are practically a play script.

redactor

Back in the 1970s, Lewis Lapham said that when a book was hyped as IMPORTANT, he would not read it right away. If people were still talking about it in two or three years, he would give it a chance. This approach could work for you. I did read The Corrections about a year after all the hoopla, which might have helped me enjoy it more.

Another book that was deemed IMPORTANT was Don DeLillo's Underworld. I loved it, but IMO it was DeLillo's last good book. And it's certainly true that what happened afterward is that his books became self-consciously arty and not at all humorous. He went from being serious to being solemn (h/t Russell Baker). I don't see Franzen as solemn, at least not in The Corrections. We'll have to see about Freedom.

In any case, you're right that judging a writer by his IMPORTANCE or reading a novel because it's IMPORTANT is not fun. Fortunately, I'm not a critic, so I'm free to read or ignore IMPORTANT books as I choose and to evaluate them by criteria other than IMPORTANCE. I tend not to read reviews until after I have read the book in question, because I want to hear the author before without strangers preinterpreting him for me.

When I was in school, I didn't much like the assigned reading. I've read most of those assigned books since and discovered that they were pretty great. I suppose like you, I was resisting reading as an exercise in "eat your vegetables." Left to my own devices, I read a lot of books my English teachers would approve of, but I can interact with them on my own terms, whether they're IMPORTANT or not.

Ralph H.

Count me in as one who's read James Gould Cozzens. For decades now I've been evangelizing Guard of Honor as one of the absolute best novels to come out of World War II, & a viable contender for the "Great American Novel."

Lev  Raphael

Okay, maybe only people who know some German are bothered by this, but Franzenfreude doesn't make a lick of sense. It does not work because freude means joy or pleasure and if you feel Franzenfreude according to Weiner, you're enjoying something, not suffering.

But then why should I be surprised at this terrible attempt at wit when Jodi Picoult thinks nobody knows what the adjective "lapidary" means and she also thinks that Jane Austen was a "popular novelist" when the facts are completely against her:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lev-raphael/was-jane-austen-a-popular_b_705583.html

Zach
The best writing acknowledges this. Writing that doesn’t--- or, more usually, can’t acknowledge it because the writer doesn’t have the right touch or, also more usually, lacks a sense of humor---is merely sentimental.

The better writers see life as comic and tragic, which is how the great Shakespearean critic Northrop Frye can ask us to see Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as basically the same play.

Franzen is a sentimentalist. Which doesn’t make him a bad writer. It just makes him a typical late 20th Century American writer, like Charles Baxter, Jane Smiley, Gail Godwin...

Just, you know, not that funny.

And, by the way, irony is a form of sentimentality, but that’s another post.

I *LOVE* THIS.

Sign me on with rampant CormacMcarthyFreude.

Or more correctly, SchadenMcCarthyFreude.. if only he would start getting some decent schaden for me to take Freude in.

Theres another word that this late 20th century American Writing evokes in me, with every benighted foray into Benighted and Noble:

Tedious.

Thanks Lance.

velvet goldmine

Margaret Drabble might have a right to be irked. Or Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Or even Joanne Trollope. But Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult are just embarrassing in this context. And I'm with those who were immediately irked by the term Franzenfreude ("You keep saying that. I do not think it means what you think it means). I suppose the unfortunate invention unintentionally underscrores that sour grapes are most often spewed by belong to those who can't hang with the big boys and girls.

Pop Mannion

Lance -- I greatly enjoyed this post. It caused two reactions.

1) I have owned a pristine $2 copy of Corrections that I got a few years ago from our library's used book store. Over those years I have noticed that we get many donated copies to resell. At least twice before, I have read a few pages and stopped. But when I read the glowing reviews of Freedom, I almost bought it (40% off with my card.) Instead,I picked up my Corrections to give it another try before investing in another work of this allegedly great talent. Still no dice. And your post made me feel so vindicated that I have placed Corrections in a bag to donate back to the book store to add to their pile of duplicate copies.

2) I knew of Cozzens but had never read anything by him. I might have if I had ever noticed a work of his
coming through the store, but none ever did. Wondering what Updike thought of him, I checked the index
of all four of his thick non-fiction books for the name Cozzens. Nothing. Then I checked my Edmund Wilson collection. Nothing. I had to settle for what
Wikipedia has to say. So today I went to our public library and went to the online catalog. Good, they
supposedly had thrree works. Guard of Honor, By Love Possessed, and The Just and the Unjust. So I checked availability.

One was listed as "missing," the other two as
"in storage" So I asked for all three, alerting them that there was a chance that the missing one would be alongside the other two. The storage runner camed down and pronounced that all three were missing. The clerk at the reference desk where I requested the copies speculated that the books had probably been placed with the humongous pile of discards declared ready for the big October sale by the Friends of the Library, and if so would be sold for the usual $1 a copy.

Rodney Cozzens gets no respect.

Ken Muldrew

This is deep in epu-land, but some of the readers of this thread might be interested in Steven Moore's The Novel. An Alternative History where Franzen is placed into an acronym (along with Myers and Peck) to denote a particularly narrow view of what a novel should be. You can read the introduction here.

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