Thursday, September 2, 2010


I have not yet read Jonathan Franzen's new novel which seems to be all the rage, but I did recently read the review by New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, who calls it "a masterpiece of American fiction." It is a brilliant, dynamic, sweeping essay that might be called a masterpiece of American criticism. Two quotes stuck with me, which I would like to reproduce here:

1). "Franzen grasps that the central paradox of modern American liberalism inheres not in its doctrines but in the unstated presumptions that govern its daily habits. Liberals, no less than conservatives — and for that matter revolutionaries and reactionaries; in other words, all of us — believe some modes of existence are superior to others. But only the liberal, committed to a vision of harmonious communal pluralism, is unsettled by this truth."

2). "Franzen makes us see, as the best writers always have, that the only pathway to freedom runs through the maze of the interior life."


  1. great quotes!

    "...the only pathway to freedom runs through the maze of interior life."

    I can dig it.

  2. Alex, I finished the book recently. It's quite remarkable - like any insanely ambitious book, it has a lot of flaws. I read a review in the Atlantic that panned rather harshly, but a lot of the points rang true with me. There seem to be too many Freudian archetypes at play in the novel, although many people would argue that that's just being realistic. The characterization seemed a bit simplistic at times. (Albeit hilarious and touching at other times, and always riveting).

    The bottom line is that I tore through its 550 pages in a week, at the end of a long summer during which I struggled to read anything at all. It's hard to fault such a wonderfully palatable book.