Friday, October 1, 2010

Steady on, Oprah

On Jonathan Franzen's Freedom

When a character in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom embarks on a reading of War and Peace, she confirms something you probably already knew. Jonathan Franzen’s ambitions are Tolstoyan. Not that Franzen tries to emulate Tolstoy at the technical level: he isn’t that audacious. But he does want to bring the serious social novel out of retirement. He wants to write big realist books that get all of modern America in. This is a laudable aim. In many ways, Franzen’s execution is laudable too. Freedom is a rich and readable book. But those who want to rank Franzen with the American greats must have an impoverished notion of what literary greatness is. Freedom showcases Franzen’s shortcomings as vividly it demonstrates his strengths. It confirms, for my money, that his high seriousness as a thinker is not nearly equalled by his technical resources as a writer ... [read more]