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the Complete Review

A Literary Saloon and Site of Review


     

Jonathan Franzen
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Jonathan FRANZEN
Nationality: USA
Born: 17 August 1959
Awards: Fulbright fellowship, 1981-2
Whiting Writers' Award, 1988
Guggenheim fellowship, 1996
National Book Award, 2001
NEA fellowship, 2002

  • B.A. Swarthmore College, 1981

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Jonathan Franzen:

  • "No doubt about it: Jonathan Franzen, 32, is one of the most extraordinary writers around. (...) As a writer, Franzen seems less at ease in the real world than he is in a heightened atmosphere of spooky doings and pending disasters." - Laura Shapiro, Newsweek (20/1/1992)

  • "Jonathan Franzen's first two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992), marked him as a writer with a real grasp of our edgy, info-saturated historical moment." - Sven Birkerts, Esquire (9/2001)

  • "Franzen is a peculiar case among American writers. Within the literary world, he is often linked with Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, yet he is decidedly the least famous of the four, and is better known for a single magazine article than for his previous novels. The New York Public Library has no circulating copies of his second novel, Strong Motion (1994), and does not seem to acknowledge the existence of his first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City (1987), at all. (It's actually there, filed under "Frantzen.") His literary reputation rests at least partly on "Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels," an impassioned manifesto published in Harper's in 1996." - Andrew O'Hehir, Salon (7/9/2001)

  • "Franzen has so lengthily lamented the impossibility of producing the social novel that he seems, really, to be longing for its renewed possibility. He appears to be disillusioned only with the possibility of the social novel, not with its desirability: he is still half in love with it. (...) Franzen errs when he leaves this path and noses along the trail of his old documentary impulse, his old love of the social novel. Whenever he does so, his tone begins to crack, and Franzen the clever journalist, the pocket theorist, peers through. The contemporary novel has such a desire to be clever about so many elements of life that it sometimes resembles a man who takes so many classes that he has no time to read: auditing abolishes composure. (...) In general, his prose loves nothing so much as a chance to show off a little technical know-how." - James Wood, The New Republic (15/10/2001)

  • "Jonathan Franzen is the slightly damaged child of Don DeLillo's peculiar relationship with American culture." - James Wood, The Guardian (9/11/2001)

  • "His greatest inventiveness lies in his expressive detailing of sensation." - Natasha Walter, The Independent (23/11/2001)

  • "Jonathan Franzen knows his Pynchon, but he loves Dickens, too. Half brainiac hipster (like Brown classmates Rick Moody and Donald Antrim, he spins clued-in riffs almost without thinking), half social anatomist, Franzen finds the minor rivalries and major calamities of stay-at-home moms and workaday dads as dramatically compelling as the tides of multinational finance." - Jesse Berrett, The Village Voice (25/9/2001)

  • "(O)ne has to grant Franzen a certain moxie -- he is unafraid to admit his elitism. But it is one thing to be elitist in your aesthetic taste, and another to want to exclude the uninitiated from reading your work -- from breaching the high-culture barricades, as it were. Yet this is the message Franzen is sending with his anti-Oprah comments." - Scott Stossel, Atlantic Unbound (29/11/2001)

  • "His rationale for writing fiction, as laid out in the essays and in The New Yorker, seems indistinguishable in places from a proposal for a new talk show. It’ll be no surprise if he follows in the footsteps of LeVar Burton and ends up hosting some kind of adult version of Reading Rainbow, maybe for NPR." - Eva Neuberg, New York Press (29/10/2002)

  • "Jonathan Franzen has the knack to annoy. Is it a conscious gift ? Is he aware how grating his pleaful moans and hopeful sighs have become ? (It's like a snore turned inside out.) Or is he intentionally irritating us, passive aggressively wearing down his readers' resistance until we finally crack and agree with what he thinks and, more importantly, how he feels ?" - James Wolcott, The New Republic (2/12/2002)

  • "The reason to celebrate him is not that he is doing something new but that he is doing something old, presumed dead -- and doing it brilliantly. Freedom bids for a place alongside the great achievements of his predecessors, not his contemporaries; it belongs on the same shelf as John Updike’s Rabbit, Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. It is the first Great American Novel of the post-Obama era." - Benjamin Secher, The Telegraph (20/8/2010)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Gifted writer
  • Good storyteller
  • Ambitious

    Cons:
  • Can get carried away with cleverness in his huge novels
  • Too worried about how his novels can affect his readership
  • Too concerned with "image" (his, that of the novel, that of literature)
  • His personality gets in the way of appreciation of his art
  • Still hasn't properly addressed the Oprah-events
  • Wastes some of his time writing non-fiction
  • Long wait between novels

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the complete review's Opinion

     Jonathan Franzen is a talented writer. His three big novels, each in the five-hundred page range, are solid entertainments, brimming with good stories, usually well-presented, often with gripping characters. Broad canvases of contemporary American life, cleverly done, with story-telling generally overwhelming whatever writerly games Franzen gets up to, Strong Motion and The Corrections, in particular, are enjoyable big but not too heavy novels.
     Franzen's recent collection of non-fiction, How to Be Alone, shows him to be comfortable at this as well -- indeed, the dividing line between his fiction and most of his non-fiction is often thin, and many of his so-called essays could easily be integrated into his fiction.
     It is the sprawling novel he seems most adept at -- no tight novellas for him -- and he seems to be developing promisingly: his first, The Twenty-Seventh City, though critically applauded is by far the weakest, and each succeeding book has shown great improvement. One looks forward to the next.
     Unfortunately, Franzen has also transcended his books, becoming a very public figure in the wake of being invited, and then dis-invited, from Oprah Winfrey's apparently popular television show. The image of the author-Franzen is one that divides his audience, alienating many who are put off by his sometimes elitist-sounding remarks. (The fact that he has still not expressed himself clearly on the Oprah-fiasco doesn't help matters -- though Oprah Winfrey herself has also not adequately addressed those events.) Few authors are as clear an example of why authors should be neither seen nor heard but rather merely read.

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Links

Jonathan Franzen: Jonathan Franzen's books at the complete review: See also:

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