Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friday Fiction: Jonathan Franzen

--by Hanje Richards

Jonathan Franzen (born August 17, 1959) is an American novelist and essayist. His third novel, The Corrections (2001), a sprawling, satirical family drama, drew widespread critical acclaim, earned a National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His most recent novel, Freedom, was published in August 2010.

Franzen is known for his 1996 Harper's essay "Perchance to Dream" bemoaning the state of literature, and for the 2001 controversy surrounding the selection of The Corrections for Oprah Winfrey's book club. In October 2010, Franzen declared in an interview for The Guardian that "America is almost a rogue state." Franzen writes for The New Yorker magazine.

The Corrections - After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man — or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History - This is Jonathan Franzen’s tale of growing up, squirming in his own über-sensitive skin, from a “small and fundamentally ridiculous person” into an adult with strong inconvenient passions. Whether he’s writing about the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, the effects of Kafka’s fiction on his protracted quest to lose his virginity, or the web of connections between bird watching, his all-consuming marriage, and the problem of global warming, Franzen is always feelingly engaged with the world we live in now. The Discomfort Zone is a wise, funny, and gorgeously written self-portrait by one of America’s finest writers.
Freedom - Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul — the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter — environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man — she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz — outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival — still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

An epic of contemporary love and marriage, Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of his characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time..

The Twenty-Seventh City - St. Louis, Missouri, is a quietly dying river city until it hires a new police chief: a charismatic young woman from Bombay, India, named S. Jammu. No sooner has Jammu been installed, though, than the city's leading citizens become embroiled in an all-pervasive political conspiracy. A classic of contemporary fiction, Franzen shows us an ordinary metropolis turned inside out, and the American Dream unraveling into terror and dark comedy.