gall and gumption

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cool Hand Kia

I could eat fifty eggs.

Or I could read Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom. I like the title. It's so--Freedom! Just think: Freedom. Wow.

FREEDOM!!! HAAAGH!!! Freedom. Freedom.

That's really all that needs to be said, isn't it? Doesn't it just scream Great American Novel at you?

Gosh. I wonder what people are saying about it. Oh look here's Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times.

You know, it's odd, I almost never read Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times. Why is that, I wonder?

Wait here, I'll be right back. I'm gonna go see.

Call me prejudiced but I feel certain that a sentence that begins like this

Whereas Mr. Franzen’s first novel, “The Twenty-Seventh City,” borrowed liberally from the likes of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo to create a dark, splashy picture of a futuristic St. Louis...

cannot possibly end well for any of the parties concerned.

...his 2001 bestseller, “The Corrections,” signaled his determination to write an American sort of “Buddenbrooks,” to conjure contemporary America — not by going for a cartoonish, zeitgeist-y epic but by deconstructing a family’s history to give us a wide-angled portrait of the country as it rumbled into the materialistic 1990s.

No, not this time either.

You may think I'm talking about sentence structure. But when I read a little further along, I am not a bit surprised to learn that Jonathan Franzen's second novel, The Corrections,

...felt, at times, as if he were self-importantly inflating the symbolic meaning of his characters’ experiences, even as he condescendingly attributed to them every venal quality from hypocrisy and vanity to paranoia and Machiavellian conniving.

Yes, but have you seen what he looks like? just look at his hair. Or that jawline. Or those goggly black intellectual glasses on his handsome preppy face. How his new maturity becomes him! In the photo that comes with this piece it looks like he's hurrying from one Deep Thought to another. "What was that you were saying, New York Times photographer?"

As the novel proceeds, however, Mr. Franzen delves further into the state of mind of his creations, developing them into fully imagined human beings — not Nietzschean stereotypes easily divided into categories of “hard” (shameless, ambitious brutes) or “soft” (pathetic, sniveling doormats); not bitter patsies fueled by ancient grudges, but confused, searching people capable of change and perhaps even transcendence.

Roll over, Leo Tolstoy and tell D.H. Lawrence the news!

Here. Let me help.


Can you feel anything yet?







Watch out don't lean on that; it's still hot.

No, no, I can see what you're saying about the noise. And the diesel fumes, of course. How about starbursts? How about two sort of Christmas card angels with the really long trumpets and the page-boy haircuts? I saw something in Martha Stewart Magazine. And some of that gold ribbon with the wires in it.

The thing is I'm flexible, is what I'm saying. I can work with you.

Just tell me what you want.

Do you know, that is the first time I have ever seen a book review written entirely in glurge? High-class glurge, the Pottery Barn of glurge, as it were.

It is not really a profile at all, it is some sort of blessing, a ritual in a debased language in which the speaker no longer even understands that words refer to things, or ever did. Meaning has been T*R*A*N*S*C*E*N*D*E*D.

It's cargo cult book reviewing. And yet, somehow, the gods deliver this time. Tom emails to ask me why Jonathan Franzen's new book seems to be turning up everywhere.

And so fearing to peer into its ineffable brightness, I, like a cargo cult theologian, the St. Augustine of literary T*R*A*N*S*C*E*N*D*E*N*C*E (yeah I toned it down a bit--the glare was beginning to bother me), I make inquiry of the divine. I suppose someone is reading it--who? Maybe it' on a bunch of Kindles. Does the book that the reviewer describes actually resemble the book that was written? Does the author that the reviewer describe actually resemble the author? How can we know? Do I have to read the book to find out? Why not? What are the odds that the book will be as awful as this review suggests?

No, I know she is praising it, thank you. That is my point.

Update: John Dolan at Exiled Online has actually read a Franzen novel. Not this one but the previous Great American Novel, The Corrections.


At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was either order candlesticks from Pottery Barn or return my brother-in-law's phone call, instead I read Gall and Gumption. Now I am rolling helplessly on the floor, laughing so hard that the cat bolted out the door.

At 5:24 AM, Anonymous James R. MacLean said...

This was utterly brilliant, and extremely funny.

I am now aware of this word "glurge."

At 2:53 PM, Blogger MW said...

I've read both Freedom and Corrections. Both are enjoyable reads, though I think Freedom is much better from a literary perspective. I doubt that time will show them to be great literary classics, but I suppose it's possible. Interesting interview here.

Owe you an email, btw. Sorry, I tend to freeze up whenever I try to write well.

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