So, the last three books I have read: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace; Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon. It’s interesting to think about these novels in relation to one another, since their authors are all approximately the same age — roughly my age, as it happens: the youngest, Chabon, is four years younger than me — and represent three interestingly different takes on The Novel As A Genre. Franzen these days works wholly within the realist tradition; Chabon likes to experiment with the conventions of genre fiction; Wallace does . . . well, his thing, his blend of metafictional play and moral seriousness.
Of the three, Freedom is the least satisfying to this reader.
The rest of the review is worth reading. I’ve been following Jacobs’ blog for some time now. He’s a thoughtful, critical, and fair reader of books.
Back to Franzen. He wants to create Literary Art; he aims to write books that do not have a Sell-by Date. This is an extremely difficult thing to do and one that takes a strong and balanced mix of talent and ambition. In his review, Jacobs seems to be answering the question not asked or answered in many reviews of Franzen’s book: how does it measure up to the great ones? Jacobs’ answer is that it does not.
Which does not mean that Freedom is not a good or even great book. But a book that should sit on the shelf with Song of Solomon, The Sun Also Rises, Waiting for Godot, Pride & Prejudice, or Invisible Man? That’s a different issue, one I wish more reviews would address. I think if more reviewers asked themselves instead of whether a book is good but is it capable of standing with the Great Ones, they would find that much of what gets sold as “literary” really isn’t.
For another take on Franzen’s latest, one that is balanced but also quite funny, go watch Ron Charles over at the Washington Post.
Note: I promise that this is the last post I will do on the whole Freedom from Franzenfreude Cage Match of 2010.