"Writing is miserable" - Great American Novelist

He starts work at 7 a.m. sharp, works solidly for six hours and “speaks himself hoarse” trying out dialogue.

I wonder does he write in his own blood, as well? Or does the self-torture not extend so far?

I know it’s unfair to judge someone on the strength of a written interview, because the impression formed may say more about the interviewer that the interviewee, but I can’t help feeling that this man is a little too full of himself. Or maybe I’m just jealous that when he has “books … piled up in every conceivable space” his “apartment is meticulously neat”, whereas my piles of books make the place look like the aftermath of a riot in a library. :wink:

Question: “There are more people in the world who can make good parents than can write good books.” Discuss the implications of this statement as a reason for forgoing parenthood, clarifying the degree to which being a parent and being an author can be considered mutually exclusive, and trying not to use the words “smug” and “self-satisfied”. :open_mouth:

Agree with Siren here. Franzen is is amazingly narcissistic and self-aggrandizing.

“Great” is such a subjective ranking.

Franzen’s new book is 570 pages long (according to Amazon), and took nine years to write (according to today’s Guardian, reporting the recall of the UK edition because of typographical errors). At first, applying the work rate Franzen describes in the linked article above, I thought this meant that each page of this book took a whole working-week of bum-in-seat effort to write, and I was just talking myself into getting hold of a copy to see what it was like. But then I remembered that he probably writes loads of other stuff as well, so my calculation is a bit wonky and now I’m not sure if I could be bothered reading it after all. Has anyone here read “Freedom”? And is it good?

The two skill sets are incommensurable. He compares people to books, confusing producers with products.
The legitimate comparison would be something like, “There are more people capable of raising good children than there are capable writing good novels.” Or perhaps “There are more good children than good novels.” Unassailable, but fatuous.


I too would be interested in the answers to those questions. Much that I’ve read about Franzen brings the word “pretentious” to mind (rather than the words “in a class with Updike, Roth and Wolfe”). But I have friends who rave about The Corrections.

P.S. And how can an author still be changing characterisations in the final galleys, as is implied by the news story of the pulping of Freedom?

Dennis Johnson, head of Melville House publishing, has been skeptical of this affair right from the start:

Would Random House throw a small subcontractor under the bus, just to please a million-dollar author? Goodness, what a thought! It’s enough to make one wish to be a million-dollar author instead of a small… well, a small anything.

So do I. One of them sent me the book shortly after it came out. I’ve yet to get past page 30… which is about where I give up on a book if I haven’t encountered either an interesting character, an intriguing story line, or lovely language.


What a shame that the National Book Award people had not had a chance to read the Guardian article before they gave Franzen their award. Or the PEN Faulkner or National Book Critics Circle crowd, before they made him a finalist for theirs. Or the New York Times when they named The Corrections one of the 10 best books of 2001. They stupidly went out and read the whole thing! What a waste of time.

Fortunately, now there’s this thread to save them time. Great minds coming together to deem Franzen unworthy after having read – collectively – 30 pages of one novel and two articles.

Efficient is one word for it.

Franzenfreude is another. Few things annoy writers so much as another writer’s success.

Ouch! :smiley:

I’ve got to admit that I titled this thread with a degree of irony, because in his jousting with McEwan and Oprah and several of his public pronouncements, Franzen has been self-admittedly crabby and what my daughter would call “up himself”, and the story of the mis-published book is, well, odd.

But all that, whilst potentially interesting and amusing, is really beside the point. What about the work? That can forgive most things. Is it any good? The reviews I’ve read have been mixed. Before embarking on 570 pages, I’d really like to know.

A little harsh, Sean Coffee? Nobody has commented on whether Franzen is worthy of the book awards he has won, and jolly good luck to anyone who can do that, I say. Nice work if you can get it. Most comments relate to the extreme oddness of the ever-changing story surrounding the book pulping, and to Franzen’s self-portrayal in interviews. He may be an adorable pussycat in real life, for all I know, but he chooses to present an arrogant persona in his publicity campaign – a campaign whose very purpose is to generate comment and subsequent sales. Given the current sustained onslaught of the Franzen publicity machine at the moment here in the UK, “two articles” is a serious understatement. We have had stories about his row with Oprah Winfrey, and about how his glasses were kidnapped last night and held to ransom. Columnists have taken up the baton, reflecting on the error-prone nature of the media, or producing a potted parody of “Freedom”. If we didn’t comment, the PR people would be failing in their duty. And if Franzen wanted us to say only nice things about him, he would apply his fabled meticulousness and careful choice of words to creating a less self-important impression. Of course, it might be a cultural thing; generally speaking, we Brits prefer our luminaries to be invincible but self-effacing. And self-effacing, Franzen ain’t.

I still haven’t found a single person who has actually read “Freedom” themselves, rather than merely repeating what they have read about it. I was toying with the idea of downloading it to my shiny new Kindle, but then I remembered reading John Crace’s parody last week, and thought better of it. I like these “digested reads”, which are often quite astute – however, he does focus on brand new releases, whereas I usually wait until books are in the discount paperback section, so sometimes I decide I won’t like a book long before I actually have a chance to look at it. Such is the case here. Go on, attack me for it, but for goodness sake, don’t make me read another Great American Novel until I’ve recovered from reading “Revolutionary Road”" :slight_smile: At the risk of annoying Sean Coffee further, I offer you another link for your entertainment, but I do recommend reading the original book first! :wink: And then tell me what you think of it, please, because I value the opinions of real people far above the frequently incestuous or lazy reviews in the press.
guardian.co.uk/books/2010/se … ested-read

Sean: Hang on, wait - if I give up on a book after thirty pages because I haven’t been grabbed by an interesting character, story or language (which I do more frequently as I get older, as Phil does), does my putting that book down without reading it all the way through invalidate any opinion I may have of it? Am I not permitted to say that I didn’t like it, or found it turgid? In which case, do you propose that all publishers and agents should read the entirety of every manuscript they are sent, in case something really interesting happens on page 150? If they haven’t read the entire thing, surely they aren’t qualified to judge the brilliance of the book? Will you tell them as much when - if I ever finish anything - I start receiving my rejection slips? :slight_smile:

Or should I judge a book by its awards instead? I’m confused. :confused:

Actually I rather enjoyed Franzen’s churlishness in that interview, but like Phil I put The Corrections down after a few pages - less than thirty, I think. It was one of those books where I found myself approaching it as I would someone who talks a lot about their charity fund-raising work - all very admirable, definitely, and I wish I were a better person so that I could appreciate it and not want to do something else instead. But then, as yet, I have not been nominated Curator of World Culture. Which is probably just as well.


P.S. There’s a very scathing review of Freedom is this week’s Private Eye, which compares the book to a scene from within it in which a character has to sift through his own faeces in order to find his wedding ring.

Nice word! :slight_smile:

I have not read Freedom, but will eventually give it a try. I have, however, read more than thirty pages of Franzen: The Twenty-Seventh City – I’m fond of St. Louis – was good for a first novel, murky and convoluted, a gloomy Dickens on the Mississippi, but I liked it. I did not read his second, but a friend who knew I’d liked the first sent me Corrections. I thought the first thirty pages were boring and trivial – disappointing – and set the rest of it aside, as I am apt do with any book, regardless of critical cachet.


For the record, if there is a record, my wife loved The Corrections and I didn’t–not because I didn’t find the writing well-crafted and meticulous and thoughtful–it was all of that and more–but because I didn’t enjoy the time spent with those characters in the same way I enjoyed being with, say, Emma Bovary or Holden Caulfield or Tom Joad or Billy Pilgrim or the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes.

Call me shallow, but it matters to me who I spend my time with, and Franzen and his characters don’t appeal. I recognize his genius, but not enough to read Freedom. Although I’m sure my wife will love it. But then, she’ll happily chat with people at parties I can’t stomach. All up themselves, and that.

Still, it’s difficult not to get all up yourself, when your mantle is filled with awards.