There’s a lot of hoopla this month about the release of Jonathan Franzen’s new book, Freedom.
I’m not saying Freedom doesn’t deserve the accolades. I’m sure Mr. Franzen works hard at his craft. He’s an excellent stylist, a teller of complex stories, but I can’t help but be bothered with the idea that, as usual, the hero of the day is a 50 year old white male. Yawn. Where are the great ethnic American writers? And from my own selfish vantage point, where oh where are the women?
You’ll find Mr. Franzen on the cover of Time Magazine, and you can read the article titled with the words “Great American Novelist.” Not great-est, but we certainly get the idea. Freedom is reviewed twice in the NYT Book Review, first by the ever-verbose Michiko Kakutani and again by the Book Review’s editor, Sam Tanenhaus. Twice?? Really? And then Jennifer Schuessler, also in the Book Review’s Inside List gives her two cents. I guess that makes three times. Wow! This must be the most important book of the decade, the century, the world! Sigh.
Now. To get beyond to obvious seriousness blanketing the arrival of Freedom on the bookshelves, I have to poke a little fun. When I first noticed the review by Kakutani, I wondered how far I’d get before being slapped with the term Updikean. Lucky for me, it was right there in the first paragraph! And Dickensian was thrown in there towards the end of the review, just for good measure and balance. This prompted me to look up all the “author-ian” words this reviewer has used of late. Right away there were Rothian, Atwoodian, Rushdian, Morrisonian, and Carverian. I was thankful for the laugh. Alas there were some obvious names missing. No Vonnegutian, Styronian, McEwanian? Is there no Diazian prose? Chabonian structure?
I am sure Mr. Franzen’s new book will sell millions of copies. It will be reviewed and rehashed for months on end. It will win, or be a finalist for, the Pulitzer. And all of this will be much deserved I’m sure. He’ll be interviewed and discussed to death. And though I couldn’t make it past 100 pages of his previous much-lauded novel, The Corrections, I’m quite sure I’ll give this new Franzian tome a try anyway — just to see what all that “hoopla” is about. I may be skeptical, but I’m not immune to the big, bad, NYT marketing machine.