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Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Praise of Jonathan Franzen (and the Valiant Vanguard of Literary Fiction)

Yes, he is the one that landed a powerful right hook to Oprah's jaw and lived to tell about it. Time Magazine calls him "The Great American Novelist." Mr. Franzen's books are engaging and ambitious beyond anything else in pop culture. I have to admit purchasing "The Corrections" a few years back, second hand, and still have not read it. I have, however, read his non-fiction ("How to Be Alone" and "The Discomfort Zone") and find it to be among the top among contemporary writers. What really gets lost in all of this praise is the fact that Mr. Franzen, almost single-handedly, is keeping literary fiction in the forefront of American mainstream media. Yes, he's made up with Oprah, luckily for all of us in her last season as a literary taste indicator and book mogul. Literary fiction--for the lack of a better definition--is that fiction that doesn't sell, is not consistently at the top of the NYT bestselling list, and does not create a super star novelist like John Grisham, or Dan Brown. What literary fiction will do for you, however, is help you find universal themes that apply to a plurality of issues in your personal life. Yes, it doesn't sell (and I really commend Time Magazine for describing Mr. Franzen's work the way they did on their cover) but literary fiction speaks to all of us, not just readers of mysteries or techno thrillers, or religious detectivesque pseudo-epics. It's as a simple as this: if you want to read books that knock your socks off again and again but you don't want to go back to the Classics because they caused permanent damage to you in high school, here's a short list of contemporary writers that do not negotiate their genre.

1--The Great White Jewish One: PAUL AUSTER

2--Haruki Murakami

3--The Late David Foster Wallace

4--Joyce Carol Oates

5--The Late (I canonized him with the Nobel Prize for Literature because I couldn't find anyone more deserving in the last 20 years than him, yet he never even make the short list)....
John Updike

6--Nicholson Baker

7--Thomas Pynchon

And of course, Mr. Jonathan Franzen. God bless you, Mr. Franzen, wherever you may be or go, for sweating out your new masterpiece "Freedom" at a time when the meaning of the title is not lost to all of us who commune with literary fiction.

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At 9:24 PM, Blogger Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz said...

I plan to buy "Freedom" this month. I own "The Corrections," but too have yet to read it. His books are huge-- I sometimes question by the size of a book if I'll be engaged throughout, so we'll see.

Interesting list you gave. Most definitely, Joyce Carol Oates.


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