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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fiction and Politics

I was reading Frank Rich's editorial on Obama's speech on the end of the war in Iraq when he made an interesting connection. He basically said that Obama did not read Franzen's new novel because there is no way he would have made the speech he did if he had. Ahah. Well, obviously Frank Rich read his book because he then gave a mini description and said Franzen had defined freedom in a way that made Obama's speech look shallow and disingenuous. Boy, when the NY Times go for a book they really go for a book!

Invoking fiction is fine. It is even better now that fiction is under siege for relevancy in the digital age. So I applaud drawing a line between big themes and a current novel. Obviously Frank Rich felt in his piece that the President had been laying it on thick on a war that should have never been started in the first place and that Franzen's novel sums up this theme of Freedom, encompassing even our debacle in the Mid East as well.

Franzen might well have put his finger on something here. Presidents are influenced by literature. We all heard about Obama reading Lincoln's letters and that his favorite novel  BF (before Franzen) was For Whom the Bell Tolls and that he is a very accomplished writer himself. Now whether or not he squeezed in Franzen's novel on vacation is any one's guess. It is a long book and so maybe between wife and children and all those pesky duties of being President, he didn't finish the book.

Let's say he did finish the novel, would insights gained by reading Freedom had changed the President's speech on the end of our combat role in Iraq? Ah probably not. No offense to Jonathan Franzen, but the nuances of fiction are more subtle than the hard ball of geopolitics and let's face it...ah, it is fiction.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man

Books by William Hazelgrove