I am just in the beginning of Franzen opus, but I have to confess to questioning a novel that veers on page thirty to the main character Patty Berglund writing about her life. Talk about stopping the action. I know, wrong book, go read an action thriller. But even in literary land it is back story, but maybe all the book is back story. Anyway it got me to thinking about how certain authors and books can break all the rules and still sell a zillion copies. I know I know there are no rules for the masters. True, but a biographical diary essentially on page thirty definitely detours from the plot.
So then you start to think, well if someone is anointed early on then how much is talent and how much is assumption? The publishers assume Franzen is going to write something great and the reviewers assume Franzen is going to write something great (except the Atlantic) and so the public is told this is great and then Oprah hits it with her wand and game over. But what if the book isn't so great? In real time bestseller land does that matter?
I suppose it is no different with a movie billed to the biggest and best and most expensive ever made. If it doesn't live up to expectations does that matter? The ball of publicity and assumption is rolling and it is very hard to stop that momentum. The second Franzen wrote this book the machine pumped up The Corrections boiled plate and Freedom quickly became Corrections II...except he didn't slam Oprah this time around. And frankly I wonder if Franzen wonders about all the hub-bub over this novel.
I mean we all think what we write is great or we hoped it is. But you know if you wrote a good book before the reviewers weigh in. They may not like it, they may hate it, and the public may not buy it, but you know in your heart of hearts if it good or not. Conversely you know if you write a bad book. You just can't hide from yourself when it is all said and done.
I am enjoying the novel. I'm only on page thirty one, so maybe this Patty Berglund biography will turn out to be a great vehicle for telling the story. But a monster back story on page thirty...well...it makes you wonder.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man due out in the fall.