Just as the Millenium was turning and as we moved into a century that might unveil more change, some might say progress, than any other Jonathan Franzen put the finishing touches to the novel that sits proudly amongst the great American novels so far in this unnerving first 11 years of the third millenium.
It wasn’t visionary, there was no great insight into what lies ahead. Instead it was a heartfelt and deeply moving story of a dysfunctional American family circling around the gravitational pull of their poor Althzeimic patriarch as he gradually fell to bits. Utterly tragic and morbidly beautiful, it remains one of my favourite American novels.
Almost a decade later Franzen returns with his new magnum opus, a dark and brooding, heartfelt story about an American family, in this case a stoutly Democratic one – but more on that later, that circles around the gravitational pull of their poor politically correct patriarch as he gradually falls to bits. It will remain one of my least favourite American novels.
This is a deeply disappointing piece of writing. Smugly anti Democratic, or at least a branch of Democratic practitionership that in the UK smacks of the sick lovechild that Tony Blair and Nick Clegg might conceive. A child that you’d just want to slap, and slap hard until it came to its senses and realised that the real world with its real issues and lack of self obsession needs to be listened to and not lectured at.
I spoke to my friend Victoria about this turd of a novel when I was two thirds done with it and she’d long consigned to the bin marked “fuck you pseud!” Like me she hated every single character with the exception of super cool lothario and musician, Richard Katz, Dick Katz I say.
It’s a story about the ebbs and flows of a very profound relationship between PC Eco warrior Walter Berglund, frankly a dork, and his hateful self obsessed emotional tram-smash of a wife, Patty. Whilst their love IS deeply profound they both find the time to have lengthy, disruptive and very meaningful affairs with equally caricaturised protagonists in this tedious tale. One dies, suddenly and unexpectedly towards the end; you know what, I didn’t give a flying fuck. See ya, wouldnae wanna be ya (anyway, you’re lucky, you got shot of creepy Walter this way). The other, well he just loses interest and fucks a few more groupies.
The son Joey becomes a raging Republican and tries to fuck the most beautiful WASP in the world, but being of lower “stock” fails miserably while turning his girlfriend (nay wife) into a depressive wreck, like his mother, whom he despises (yawn). The daughter Jessica is a cold hearted bitch who’s character is least well resolved despite having a mammoth 562 pages in which to do so. (562 pages that are strewn with typos which really made me laugh because Franzen is a known perfectionist – Walter, meet Jonathan. Jonathan meet Walter. Oh, you already have? Ahh, that’s presumably because you are one and the same I assume.)
I mean, 562 pages, does this man not have an editor for chrissakes? The section in the first part of the book where Patty is psychoanalysed for 70 pages is at least 30 too long. But that’s because, I think, Franzen has disappeared up his own publicity.
In short, Franzen has created a monster. It’s cliched, it’s unpleasant, it’s a nihilistic book with none of the passion and real insight of The Corrections, and it feels like a formula. I don’t know what went wrong. But I feel sure that under the watchful eyes of a more challenging editor Franzen could have turned this into a more believable and engaging read.
(Now, don’t get me started on John Irving. Of late.)
And, so to the ending…SPOILER ALERT…they all live happily for ever fucking after. Jesus give me a break.
“It’s me” she said “Just me.”
“I know.” he said, and kissed her.
And, in that, half a lifetime of emotional abuse was resolved, In an instant.