Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jonathan Franzen’s Higher Plane

With a great deal of the publishing industry in a tailspin for the last couple of years -- international economic crisis, the coming of age of the e-book, the falling of the sky in general -- there have been more questions than answers. But while everyone wonders what will save the industry, a lot of people agree on one thing: bestsellers of the blockbusting kind go a long way to take the ouch out of just about everything. And maybe that’s part of the reason that Jonathan Franzen’s new book, Freedom, is being heralded by almost everyone as the sort of second coming tsunami that will cause the world to burst into flames almost by being in its ultra-hot presence. At The Guardian, Jonathan Jones practically bursts into song while praising Franzen’s new book:
Jonathan Franzen is the great American novelist reborn, a literary genius for our time. Only recently, a critic was lamenting the decline of the American novel, the passing of the age of Updike, Roth and Bellow. But there is no excuse for pessimism about the future of serious fiction when a writer such as Franzen is coming into his prime. His hit The Corrections won him an army of readers, then he published a set of provocative cultural essays – and this autumn, Freedom, his first novel since The Corrections, will be finally be published. It is an extraordinary work, which develops and deepens the immense talent so evident in The Corrections in a way that is at first troubling, then addictive – and then, with mounting satisfaction, convinces you this is simply on a different plane from other contemporary fiction.
And while The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani doesn’t come close to bursting into song, the review is a very good one:
Jonathan Franzen’s galvanic new novel, “Freedom,” showcases his impressive literary toolkit — every essential storytelling skill, plus plenty of bells and whistles — and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life. With this book, he’s not only created an unforgettable family, he’s also completed his own transformation from a sharp-elbowed, apocalyptic satirist focused on sending up the socio-economic-political plight of this country into a kind of 19th-century realist concerned with the public and private lives of his characters.
But just what is Freedom actually about? Kakutani breaks it down to a single, chewy line:
Writing in prose that is at once visceral and lapidary, Mr. Franzen shows us how his characters strive to navigate a world of technological gadgetry and ever-shifting mores, how they struggle to balance the equation between their expectations of life and dull reality, their political ideals and mercenary personal urges.
Franzen’s Freedom is out August 31 from Farar, Straus and Giroux.



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