Jonathan Franzen and The Great American Novel
October 5, 2015, by Doni Wilson
On Monday, September 21st, I went to the Wortham Center in Houston for Jonathan Franzen’s sold-out Inprint Margarett Root Brown reading. I couldn’t wait to hear something from his new novel, Purity, for reasons that are a little impure. For better or worse, I had that same feeling that I have when I go to rock concerts, as in, maybe there will be high drama or difficulties and I am going to be there. Yay me.
No wonder it feels a little hysterical in the room when I get my seat. It is completely bustling, packed. He has won a slew of awards, sold millions of copies. It’s nice to anticipate, a feeling that you think might be becoming extinct as we are previewed to death about so many things now. Even if you have read the book, you don’t know what he will choose to read and how he might sound.
Franzen looks exactly like you expect from photographs: glasses, jeans, casual without trying. Levy tells us that “Charlie Brown” is Franzen’s favorite comic strip, and I think of how so many times it is Lucy cruelly taking away the football before Charlie Brown comes in for the kick that parallels Franzen’s dramatizations of American desires and subsequent disappointments. He is good at reminding us how it feels when we hit the ground, duped, yet weirdly, up for it again when Lucy lies to us, asks us to kick it. Franzen has not written books called The Discomfort Zone for nothing.
Franzen is funny right off the bat. I already like him since one of his favorite things is Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor’s struggles being grotesque yet hilarious. Franzen has learned much from him. Franzen looks at the audience and confesses: “It is always weird reading from one side of the stage. I feel like I should be showing you slides.” In a way, he sort of does, showing us glimpses of the main characters through a series of short readings on (or from) each. Continue reading