When Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was published in 2001, the literary world treated him like a god. Author Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation." It won the National Book Award and was shortlisted for dozens of other literary honors. Nine years later, Franzen has published another, 576-page novel of domestic drama called Freedom. Time preemptively placed him on the cover with the title "Great American Novelist," and the New York Times called it a masterpiece. The red carpet was even longer and more crimson this time around.
But that's when the Franzenfreude backlash began. Female writers such as Jodi Picoult, immediately suspicious of the establishment's coddling of another white male from Brooklyn, started a Twitter campaign against the endless glowing reviews. And when Franzen was in England promoting Freedom, gadflies knocked the glasses off of his face and tried to hold them for ransom.
The ire surrounding the acclaimed author can be traced to two things: Franzen's public recoil after the mainstream Oprah's Book Club selected The Corrections, and his 1996 Harper's essay, "Perchance to Dream," in which he trumpeted the death of the social novel. But instead of following his own advice to abandon social commentary and write for entertainment, Franzen continued to pump out long-winded fiction about the brokenness of middle-class America.
Freedom continues this tradition, centering on the angst of one bougie Midwestern family where each character is his or her own tiny tornado of neuroses spinning through failed marriages, adolescent love, politics, and resentment. At first, Franzen's crisp vision is startling. But soon, too many details cause the story to sprawl every which way just like those evil suburbs.
Sun., Nov. 21, 5 p.m., 2010