Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Franzen, Freedom, Corrections

Jonathan Franzen is way overhyped. I thought The Corrections was pretty much the minimum of what a decently-regarded book should be, not an exemplar of the best being written. 
Now I'm reading Freedom and having the same reaction. It's not that the book is uninteresting. I like Franzen's sensitivity to the peculiar turns and tides of people's relationships, especially family. For example, the below, a college-age son's thoughts about his mother:
Everything he'd done with regard to her in the last three years had been calculated to foreclose the intensely personal sort of talks they'd had when he was younger: to get her to shut up, to train her to contain herself. To make her stop pestering him with her overfull heart and her uncensored self. And now that the training was complete and she was obediently trivial with him, he felt bereft of her and wanted to undo it.
What a lot of hurt and hope and tenderness there. But it's always narrated rather than written. (Tired adage about showing, not telling.) The characters are never discovered or revealed by dialog, and too much of the action is explained rather than manifested.
Here I am blogging in the office on a day of light work, and the graphic designer sitting behind me is complaining about always getting simultaneous instant messages from two different people asking him to do the same thing. 
OK, there it is, ha ha, how frustrating. But why not strip the explanation away:
There was the usual hubbub of a meeting breaking up. Lyle immediately received two IMs. 
Pat: "Levering proofs ready yet?" 
Mitch: "Levering ASAP, plz."
Maybe Franzen's gift is for situations, as I've said above. I simply don't believe his characters' longer story lines. One of his protagonists, Patty (that must be where I got Pat, above), models herself to be a perfect Mom figure, but that has nothing to do with the basketball player she was in college or the analysand (therapand?) she becomes later. She doesn't commit adultery in a manner that flows with or against her history, it's just doing something else. Her husband is an exec first for 3M and then at an environmental foundation, but as far as we know she has never been to a function in the role of wife - esp lacking as a reality point, because alcohol is part of her story as their marriage goes on.
Patty's (and here is something of manifesting, not telling - she's always Patty, a tall woman known by her diminutive) therapy journal makes up large sections of the book. There's no doubt but that these are supposed to come straight from her journal, they're not secondhand or narrated - Patty's story is being told by somebody who refers to herself as the autobiographer. Her writing style is in no way differentiated from the novelist's. Same vocabulary, same average length of sentences, same recursive grammar. Why introduce an element like that if you're not going to take advantage of it, and if you can't take advantage of it, why introduce it?

This blog is of no significance. I write it because I would never think these things out in this way except to an imaginary reader, who occasionally is a real person. And I enjoy writing sentences. I'm going to move over to a new blog soon, to consolidate all my little projects (how I used to bristle if somebody asked me if writing was my hobby), and make a fresh start, with less political fulminating.
This blog doesn't matter. Starting a new one doesn't matter either. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Frog's Eyebrows

Entries from A Flapper's Dictionary, July 1922. Just fun.
From the blog of The York Emporium used book and curiosity shop in downtown York, PA, via boingboing. A "boob tickler" is not what you might think.