Jonathan Franzen made a name for himself with The Corrections, which I read several years ago and greatly appreciated. While reading Crossroads, I remembered that I went to one of his public readings of a book whose title I have forgotten, when I was living in Christchurch, probably because the event was somehow surreal. Very unlikely event in Christchurch (it is Auckland which generally hosts this kind of literary guests), hardly publicized, I had noticed it by chance. I found myself in a small dark room, with two other people (including somebody who looked like his wife). The author did not take offense of the size of the audience and went on with what he was paid to do, because he perhaps knew that it would allow him to come to the South Island to observe the birds, a passion of his meaning, according to my unscientific criteria, that he must be a decent human being (that being said, a recent poll mentioned in The Guardian, claims that bird watchers are amongst the most boring people, a group I must confess, I am proud to be part of, although in a very amateur way).
Obviously, once one has read a book that struck a chord, the risk of being disappointed by the following one is high. However, I cannot say that Crossroads disappointed me: it reads well and I could read substantial passages every evening with pleasure. Franzen masters his writing, his characters are well presented, his reflections on an American family of the 70s, which he observes with acuity and empathy are relevant, but started to get a little tired after 400 pages, which isn't too bad (the book is almost 600 pages long), because I see less need to write really long novels in the times we live in. However, I could not help comparing this very American novel in its form and in its subject (which is not a negative observation) to that of Karl Ove Knaussgaard, another very long book, which contains boring passages which I simply skipped over, but which disturbed me much more than Franzen's opus (it seems to me moreover that he has been influenced by Knausgaard, in the meticulous descriptions of certain moments). The difference between the two lies, I believe, in the fact that Knaussgaard goes further into the entrenchments of literature, whereas Franzen is very classical in his approach to the novel. Neither has more merit than the other, but right now, Knausgaard seems to appeal to me more than Franzen. Worth reading anyway, for all sorts of other reasons.
2 réflexions sur « what I’ve read : Jonathan Franzen »
I like your story of the reading. Early on, Franzen had a reputation for prickliness that I’m glad did not come out at the reading. As for influences–they are probably closer to home and older authors–William Gaddis, Tennessee Williams, maybe Don Delillo. The blue chair in the Corrections is straight out of an essay by Tennessee Williams and, of course, emotionally observant and fraught as every Williams play or reminiscence is–even the sweeter ones. I’ve not read the new novel, though; at the moment, I don’t want to revisit the seventies–it’s bad enough fighting off the reappearance of bell bottomed trousers.
You are surely better placed than me to see Franzen’s American influences and understans why you would not want to revisit the Alerican seventies.