I have a confession to make. It is with growing feelings of inferiority and frustration that I look at the growing list of authors who, according to widely accepted verdict of literary critics belong to the Pantheon of greatness or already put their first foot into it, and yet I still cannot make myself like them. Not to put too fine a polish on the sad fact, in many cases I wasn't even able to finish some of their books.
Of course it's a matter of taste, you will say, and it's perfectly excusable for a person to fall in love with one author and to hate another's books. But still, seeing as how most of the civilized world sings hosannas to a book and not being able to progress beyond page 32 is kind of alarming. On the other hand, I am not into reading literary criticism, resorting to this kind of stuff only when I am overly puzzled by an author, like in case of Jonathan Franzen. I have dutifully read two of his earlier books: The Twenty-Seventh City and The Corrections. While I can't say that I fell in love with them or even that I liked them, I can at least carve two additional notches on my reading glasses and declare that I am done with Mr Franzen forever.
But fate, apparently, has its own goals and, no matter what Internet page I open lately or what paper I happen to spread on my breakfast table, Franzen's name in conjunction with his new book Freedom jumps in my face. What should I do after announcing, albeit only to myself, that I've already paid my dues to that author - with all due respect and all that?
So, feeling that my resistance is waning and that my right hand is going to click on the Amazon button and one-click-order the book, I've resorted to that act of despair: I have started reading criticism of that book in particular and of the author in general. Poor I...
By now I know why the right hates Freedom (don't expect to learn something about the book, but the piece is verily an abattoir of right-wing literary critics). I also know why I should love the book and its author. I have been on Amazon and have seen that as many people hate the book as love it (as usual, actually). Etc. But the main question: should I or shouldn't I click that Amazon button - remained unanswered. Then I have stumbled upon Franzen's interview with Guardian's Sarfraz Manzoor. What can I say? Franzen is very likable: thoughtful, free of self-importance, rather shy, suspicious of authorities - in short, every attribute that will always win a place in my heart. And he is chock-full of guilt, that without being Jewish! Take, for instance, the following verbiage that appears in the area of 6:20 (not a precise transcript):
Our treatment of the Indians... our long relationship with slavery... and then the Cold War - we were certainly culpable...Oops... let's run the last one again. And again. Hmm... yes, so, according to Mr Franzen, US is culpable in the Cold War. That's not a novel statement. It was frequently and generously used by the other side of the Cold War, but of course, where the other side used a buzzword, there always happened quite a few folks on this side of the Curtain to echo the sentiment. And still it's eerie to hear this in XXI century. One would have expected the fellow travelers of the late Soviet Union to be extinct or too old and quiet by now. Unless, of course, we are talking some stupid dinosaurs of the extreme left media like Seumas Milne and such.
Mr Franzen is born in 1959: not too young to be absolutely excluded from a list of potential Soviet fellow travelers, but still too young for this possibility to be explored seriously. And that "almost rogue state", happily picked up by the buzzards of the Guardian, doesn't point at a fellow traveler, just at a typical confused lefty who successfully passed the mandatory liberal arts education in US and a complimentary ideological brainwashing in Europe. One practically expects some raving and grumbling re "military - industrial" complex, the right-wing cabal etc. And the subject doesn't disappoint, freely providing his view on "the degree to which... we are almost a rogue state and causing enormous trouble around the world... to preserve our freedom to drive SUVs...".
Still, much is excusable (or practically expected) when dealing with a genius. Much, but not that peculiar vision of "culpability in the Cold War". Sorry, Mr Franzen, whatever left-wing garbage your "liberal" mind collected during the brainwashing period, too many people owe too much to the victors of the Cold War for your opinion of it to be excusable.
But the interview didn't stop there. Mr Franzen has decided to share more of his wisdom in the bloody fields of sociology and history (transcript imprecise):
It does make one wonder what is it in our national character that is making us such a problem state and I think that a kind of mixed up childish notion of freedom and perhaps... really, truly - who left Europe to go over there? It was all the malcontents, people who were not getting along with others...The depth of this analysis is staggering. I mean, where else but in an interview a leading progressive American writer gives to a most progressive British media outfit could one gain such a pearl of cutting edge wisdom? It's a pity that Mr Franzen stopped there, without explaining how come the peaceful and easy-to-get-along-with denizens of enlightened Europe, after getting rid of their malcontents, their bullies, their hooligans, suddenly decided to kill off one another and did it for about two hundred years with zeal and skill unmatched in the recorded history.
It is also strange that the interviewer, so obviously delighted with the text quoted above, decided to make do with it, refraining from questioning Mr Franzen on that other missing part. Yeah, I am being facetious here a bit... Guardian always gets the worst out of me...
To conclude: this interview decided the question for me. I will not click that Amazon widget. The budget, almost spent on Freedom, shall go to some other happy graduate of liberal arts. Someone else will have to wade through the book, which effort, judging by the two others I read, will be considerable. So good luck to someone else.
And I shall leave Jonathan Franzen to his dull, throbbing anxiety. Better him than me...
Meanwhile I have learned that, according to the currently accepted classification, Franzen adheres to the genre of hysterical realism. To my surprise and delight, I have found out that the list of authors belonging to hysterical realism covers a high percentage of the books and authors I have mentioned re my feelings of inferiority and frustration... Lucky me, indeed. I've also discovered that it sometimes pays off to read literary critics. Go figure...
If you want to know more about this literary genre, I warmly recommend this article.
Cross-posted on Yourish.com