Sunday, August 30, 2015

The New York Times Review of Franzen's Purity

A review should tell you if a book is any good or not .You should be able to depend on the reviewer in the final analysis to say hey this is something you should read or something you should pass on. It is the gut reaction we are after in books, movies, plays, anything that we are going to commit time and money to, But reviewers sometimes cannot bring themselves to give us the thumbs up or thumbs down and then we are left with a central question at the end of the did you like it?

Take the New York Times review of Jonathan Franzens Purity. By the end of this lengthy review you have no idea if the reviewer liked the book or not. The entire review is a plot review and comparison to earlier works and then some weird justifications of Franzen's prose which apparently is without style, but I am not even sure the reviewer said that. So I read the review again thinking I had missed the salient sentence.

Lets call it the verdict sentence. It is when the reviewer comes out of the hedge and it is usually at the end, This is where the quotes for the book are usually lifted. Sometimes, if a reviewer really loves a book, it will come in the beginning. But in the Franzen review it does not exist at all. There is no telling if this reviewer felt his time well spent. Unfortunately because of Franzens stature I get the feeling the reviewer was not comfortable letting us know that he probably didn't care for the novel.

This is a guess. It is the "I am reviewing a major novelist and I better be careful" tepid crossing of literary ice. One wrong misstep could reveal the truth. So after reading the review several times, I have come to the conclusion I know little more than I did before. I shall buy the book. I would have bought it anyway. I am a Franzen fan. But still, one does wish for some honesty, even if a lamb is reviewing a lion.

Books by William Hazelgrove