Well somebody had to do it. The review in the Atlantic burns Mr. Franzen to the ground and calls him a bad writer, basically a blogger, and skewers the book as trivial. The basic argument is that there is nothing to the novel except a lot of everything but the kitchen sink. The review is extensive and really one should read it because it probably asks the question in a very basis sense...where's the beef?
Truly there is this aspect to Franzen fiction. Dazzled by the run of facts and plot twists and well just words and words and words, his fiction does leave one thinking that maybe serious fiction took a turn in the road and you missed it. Writers are forever on the lookout for something new and with Franzen you think, well I will never do that...I simply don't know enough. But then does all that information lend itself to novels?
Novels are funny creatures. The perfect novel is elusive, so we settle on something that elevates and hopefully people can enjoy from all walks of life. Along comes Franzen and says no no no the novel is gigantic and sprawling and encompasses just about everything and you really don't have to dip too far into the well of character, just keep moving. I of course am pulling from his novel The Corrections (I have not read Freedom) and books of essays I have read. His style is not that different from nonfiction to fiction.
So I understand why The Atlantic went after him. There is something missing from his fiction. Maybe some sort of humanism, but that is not it really, because in the final chapter of The Corrections we find a very human family falling apart. Mr. Franzen writes about family extensively yet he has no children, no family of his own...not that you have to have children to write about families, but it does give you another dimension beyond the oh my God bourgeois family life is a dysfunctional horror theme.You don't want to fall into the old why do you write depressing books because fiction asks questions and gets under our skin if it is any good. But does Franzen skate on the surface while letting go with his staccato observations because cold intellectualism ultimately gets in his way? Maybe he does know too much.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man