10 May 2012

The Freedom of Jonathan Franzer

Whenever a character of a novel (or a real person) believe that they are the ultimate realist in a culture of savage realism, they loose their credibility: we don't believe them 
(me myself) 

Let's dedicate some time to this. Mmhhmmm... As I've finished to write this sentence, a question comes up from the very bottom of my brain: look, it's 40 ºC (that's it: it's bloody hot) and are you sure you want to use your time to write about this book? Why?

The answer: my house is a mess and if I don't seat here writing something I'll feel compelled to start cleaning and unmessing all this. And it's —really— too hot. And also: David gave me this book, and in some way I have to tell him that... well, let's tell it to him with some few more words.

When I first received the book I didn't even know this Jonathan Franzer. Googled it and found out he won in 2001-2002 —just to mention a couple of them— the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A best-selling and high-rated author. I do not normally read books reviews before reading a book, so I just decided to deep my head on it and see. Bad choice. Very bad choice (sorry, David).

I'll try to be brief. First to be said: I haven't finished the book. And I do not know if I will actually finish it. Now, this guy is an excellent writer. I mean, He knows English and he know how to use it. So you start the novel and you decide (English is obviously not my first —not even the 2nd— language, as you can easily understand from my writing) that it's harmless and an easy read. Enjoyable. An it gets a point. Then you go on reading and you find yourself there, in some way: the pop culture references (I'm 41) which makes you feel this is a story of truly today's world. 

But one goes on thinking that the novel wants, in some way, to be a post-modern Tolstoy's vindication (there are more than one reference to Tolstoy, here) but as one perseveres through it, gets more and more perplexed. This wants to be a realistic XXI century novel. And it fails in it. It really fails.

In a post-modern environment, where we are flooded with 24-hours information, a realistic novel cannot aspire to be the herald of the reality, and not even to merely describe it —we know it, we already understand what reality is, we live it, we are inundated with information about reality— but, in some way, it has to transcend it, to put reality on a place where it can be denied, and not just been swallowed as it is. Realistic novels (from Victor Hugo to Anna Karenina to Don DeLillo... not to speak about Thomas Pynchon, but perhaps I'm driving it too far with Pynchon) implicitly raises concern about how fucked up reality is.

And this novel, titled Freedom, which is supposed to be

«[...] about how we use and abuse our freedom; about the beginning and ending of love, teenage lust, the unexpectedness of adult life; why we compete with our friends; how we betray those closest to us; and why things almost never work out as they "should". It's a story about the human heart, and what it leads to us to do to ourselves and each other.»

express in my very personal vision no concern about freedom. Not at all. The problem of realism in Victor Hugo, in Émile Zola was precisely the freedom, or, better said, the lack of freedom and you could "feel it". And that "feeling" was the hardest criticism to the human condition in that reality.

Now, it actually seems that Franzen does not even aspire to criticize reality. It really seems he has nothing to criticize. He seems to be fine with almost everything (you could say here that he merely report the uneasiness of reality and that this becomes a criticism by itself, but no: you do not even get this feeling). In some easy way I could say that everything its reproduced superficially. And here it comes to the superficiality of the characters. The portrayal of the characters is just non-believable. They vacillate in between the cliché, the "genericality" (I've just invented it, but I couldn't find a better word) and an unbelievable artificial way of expressing themselves: the dialogues —most of them— are just not credible (I've to admit that at the very beginning of the novel, I thought the contrary).

Franzen don't even try to give them different voices: the chapters of Patty's autobiography (almost 200 pages) are not spoken with Patty's voice (if it exists). It's Franzen here speaking with his own voice, the same tedious voice which accompanies you through all the book (at least till the page I am reading at the moment).

It's 21:37, now. My house is still a mess (I promise: this weekend I'll dedicate myself to it) and temperature... is still around 35. My pamphlet has come to his end (not too interesting, I guess) and I will sit outside and read a bit more. Now I feel a bit more free.


Ana said...

Think that you had very high expectations of this book. I agree with almost everything you said (homogeneous voices trying not to be, etc ). However, does it make it a bad book? I don’t think so. In my view, it is a good one. I don’t think it’s fare to compare it with Tolstoi, Victo Hugo, De Lillo The author criticises the American family, which is quite a “political matter” there. In my view, Franzen is quite happy describing reality (the “collective” neurosis of our age). I don’t think he aims to transcend it (I have to say that this is pretty postmodern). He does it in a funny, easy to read and, sometimes, innovative way. This is more than enough for me.

Try to read David Foster Wallace. Maybe you will find what you expected from Franzen.
In any case, it was nice to read you post. Was it too hot in Seville?
Ana Fernandez Zubieta

Emix Bebox said...

Ana! Is this the way to resuscitate? :-)

It's going to be a bit strange writing you in EN, but, for the sake of coherence...

I had no expectations of this book. I didn't know Franzer. I just don't see the point in his (in my opinion) shabby realism. Criticizing the american family is far from being anything original. At lest, I wanted to say, he could have tried to give characters some credibility. Nobody speaks the way they do...

Aquí me estoy muriendo de calor, Ana. ¿Cuándo pasas por Sevilla?

Ana said...

Ja, ja. Sí, Emiliano, es raro escribirte en inglés y sí parece que era una fan de Franzen sin saberlo.
Estoy pendiente de una reunión en Sevilla. Así que, igual nos vemos entonces.

Muchos besos,