May 27, 2003

An evening with Jonathan Franzen

If you've not yet read The Corrections, I hesitate (after having heard the man himself on obligation) to say that you ought, but I think you'd get a lot out of it. It's funny - not in the David Foster Wallace thirty-five-pages-later way, or the wry bitter-sweet Murakami way, but genuine immediate pitch-black thigh-slappers. And it's got a lot else in it besides, about families and The Bigger Picture.

Thus it was a very great pleasure (and relief) to see Franzen at the Comedy Club last night and find him personable, funny and just a wee bit deflective of questions he didn't know how (or didn't want) to handle. The big bonus was that he's a great reader of his own work: his pacing was great, and it's revelatory to hear how authors imagine the tone and cadence of their own sentences. In the passage that Franzen read (extracted from The Corrections, a chapter entitled 'The more he thought about it, the angrier he got'), it became apparent how good an ear for dialogue he has. The characters stand right up off the page. This is a really difficult art, in my view, especially when you mix it with the kind of meandering interior monologue that Franzen is also apt at. To find dialogue that lives and breathes and interacts with an imagined stream of thought without becoming static or turgid is a real pleasure.

Franzen's claim is that he abandoned the notion of the Socially Instructive Novel in writing this work, and that writing became a whole lot better when he stopped using it as an ex-officio communication. It still intrigues me how much more socially revealing and philosophically intriguing writing can be when it drops the 19th century German stance of writing as therapy (for society, not the author, although it works the other way too, if the operative noun and adjective becomes Californian and late 20th century).

posted on May 27, 2003 at 10:14 AM by darren.