I read this article on Flavorwire on being pissed off by noted American author Jonathan Franzen and, what with having read an article on the Internet, immediately became engorged with rage as that is what 99% of the Internet is supposed to make you do. I was empurpled! I was like, No, motherfucker! Nobody tells me why Jonathan Franzen pisses me off! I can come to my reasoning by myself and share it with all the world. Which I am going to do, right here.
I do have to make a stop on the Internet Rage Train and discuss one of the reasons that Flavorwire gives: the idea that Franzen called out David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction as “made up” after Wallace couldn’t respond to the charges, what with being dead and all. Motherfucker, really? There’s a line to this sort of thing over which you do not cross. Does anybody really care whether David Foster Wallace made up some details about his experience on a goddamn cruise ship? Did he get on a cruise ship at some point in his life? Good, there you go. He didn’t fake illness and heroic recovery or try to extrapolate his cruise ship experience into an overarching theory of public life that applies to every American that ever lived.* I’m angry at Jonathan Franzen that he even made me think about whether I should care about this. Well, I’m angry at the person at Flavorwire who thinks that I should care about Franzen mentioning it. I guess that isn’t Franzen’s fault, “frenemy” of Wallace or not. I forgive you, Jonathan Franzen. This was not your fault.
Now that that’s out of the way: the reason I hate Jonathan Franzen is because he’s the most boring fucking curmudgeon that ever threw a grimace at the scum of the world. Flavorwire describes him as “pretty grumpy,” but he is the tamest grump since Oscar the Grouch popped out of his garbage can to talk to the children. He doesn’t write to shock, or even to evoke a guilty chuckle; everything is completely in earnest, nothing is any fun at all. You can see this in his response to Oprah–he didn’t like Oprah, fine. But he wasn’t about to say that–instead, he “felt bad in a public-spirited way.” Really? So the best he can do is to be condescendingly sad that he doesn’t like things other people like? Some asshole.
The books are like that, too, very public-spirited, with all the obsession with status symbols and display and social codes that those words imply. And Franzen believes in those social codes wholeheartedly; he’s like ugly old Edith Wharton in that he’s trying to be a chronicler of a social class, but Wharton could at least see some of the cruelties and hypocrisies of her circle. For all his name-dropping and seeming disgust at the crude ways of the world, Franzen always comes back to the most conservative position possible; his most famous novels, The Corrections and Freedom, end in marriage or remarriage, with a happy ending for all involved (except for the old and brown, who die in nasty ways, as is the nature of things in America).
Franzen also makes Wharton seem like a description of an orgy, in that there’s no pleasure he doesn’t make dreary; for all their corsets and three-piece suits, at least Wharton takes her characters’ emotional and sexual desires seriously. Then again, Franzen isn’t disgusted by sex; that would require an emotion stronger than public spirit. He just seems vaguely saddened that his characters have to do something lower than middlebrow to advance the plot.
There’s the point,really–a real curmudgeon would at least attempt to be revolting, to revel in his hatred of the body. Not Franzen. His curmudgeonliness is a put-on, a mask that hides his deep discomfort at anything outside his own tastes. He’s a defensive hater, not an offensive one. He’ll never make the big leagues!
I guess I’m pissed off at Franzen because he doesn’t actually piss me off as much as I want to be pissed off. He doesn’t have the gift of inspiring the reader to hate along with him, and his writing isn’t good enough to inspire higher emotions than boredom and dislike. All I can do is loudly hate his persona, because his books aren’t enough to be hated on their own. That is Franzen’s failure.
I’ll end with a troll: He’s still a better writer than Jennifer Weiner.
* By the way, fuck David Brooks.