If you can get past the annoying new Salon design, this is a pretty level-headed review of Jonathan Franzen’s new book of essays.
Level-headed? Is that my greatest compliment? Well, Franzen seems to inspire levels of vitriol usually reserved for actual family members. Or exes. (Ex-lovers, ex-presidents, extreme makeover shows.)
And you know, he brings it upon himself. He publicly hates lots of things that people love: Twitter, e-books, the late capitalist civilization that has fatally encroached upon innocent nature. He wrote a less-than-hagiographic essay about the suicide of his best friend, a writer who is nearly sainted by the smart, passionate people he wants to read his books. He protested his inclusion in Oprah’s book club and then whined about how he was so misunderstood for it.
The New Yorker’s illustration of his infamous essay “Farther Away”
In writing that essay about mourning his best friend and rival, Franzen has deliberately created a discourse comparing him to David Foster Wallace. Which was a dumb idea. He’ll lose on nearly every measure of literary quality. But I’m not interested in comparing them. I like them both, and find both problematic.
Instead, I want to ask what Franzen gets out of being such a dickhead.