Hermits Rock

Go to content Go to navigation

Listen to Jonathan Franzen talk to Terry Gross about his memoir, The Discomfort Zone. It will take about 40 minutes. Don’t worry, I can wait. Meanwhile, for the rest of you, a year ago I read The Corrections. No question it’s a fine novel, although it bothers me that even still what I remember most about it is an unfortunate simile. (It’s a simile unfortunate in a way not unlike that first, clunkiest-in-the-series simile in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which likens Hagrid’s feet to baby dolphins.) I tried to interview J. Franz last year. I got a message through to him; however, he snottily declined.

Back now? So it’s clear he can’t allow other people the right to interpret his work: he’s all about self-interpretation and analysis. Moreover, he doesn’t allow himself any revelation of sentiment—even though he’s talking about the death of his mother. Okay, then, answer me this question: Has the man’s personality completely succumbed to some personified character roughly equivalent to “Famous Author,” or is it just that he’s an ass and has always been an ass, as the memoir claims?



i just finished the corrections and couldn’t believe how much jf seemed to dislike the characters he’d created. i haven’t heard the interview, but that novel seemed like one only a jerk could write.

Paradoxically, that he disliked his characters is partly why I liked The Corrections, in that the novel seems to work in spite of (yet also because of) JF’s estimation of them.

K read Strange Motion last year—is he like that in all his books?

SM was not a great book. And furthermore, his heroine is a 30ish, plain woman, past whatever tiny bloom of beauty she may have possessed in her youth. I did like The Corrections, but from what I’ve gathered about JF, his hatred of the mother and father characters in that book probably just mirror his hatred of his own parents…I don’t think JF is a very complex person. G and I have a friend who loves to identify personality disorders in people, and I just imagine her proclaiming, “KL, he’s a narcissist!”

Of course there was a good amount of hubris is G’s thinking he would land an interview with a Great Author such as JF. You’re no Terry Gross, G.

Or are you?


If you are asking whether I have a nationally syndicated interview show which often books cultural and political figures in the midst of their publicity tours, then, well, no. :)

But are you capable of questions such as “I’m surprised you didn’t throw away that letter your mother sent you. Why didn’t you?” (to JF) or even better, “Exactly what kinds of body parts did you find in the wreckage of the World Trade Center?” (to some guy who wrote a book about Ground Zero cleanup)?

Point taken. The answer then, definitely, is no.

(The latter question, as I remember, she asked not once, but three times, and the GZ writers declined to answer every time.)

we read The Corrections a few years ago in our book club, and i really loved it (perhaps because of a dysfunctional relationship with my parents, like JF? i won’t turn this post into a therapy session.) however, another person DESPISED it, refused to finish it, threw it across the room! she’s a midwesterner and hated the snobbish tone of a New Yorker (as she perceived it) toward that region. speaking of JF’s hubris, you do remember the flap over his refusal to allow this book on Oprah’s list. most of my book group disliked him for that reason alone. (i guess i’m not too surprised at your incident with him, G.) however i’ve had a hard time disliking him, in part because i think we were born the same year and, even if he is a jerk, i find him attractive. i see JF a few times a year walking down my block always in the morning on my way to work, and i always wonder where he’s going. a successful author like him surely doesn’t live in my humble neighborhood. does he have a little writing space somewhere around? given all the press his nastiness has been given, i dare not stop him and say something silly like, “i like your work.”

See? That’s why I ask if it’s all affected. He broods, on radio, in photos, as if always to tell everyone, “I’m a Serious Author.” It’s not unsexy, especially because, unlike the writers that hang around this town, he generally pulls it off. However, I think he doesn’t have enough of a bashful side to make him vulnerable.

He might appreciate your stopping him: The only really nice thing he had to say about anyone else in that Fresh Air interview was to exclaim that people who stop him on the street, though he doesn’t know them, make his day.

I sympathize, though, with your Midwestern book club member. Even though to diss the Midwest for New York is cliche in American letters every once in a while it annoys me, too, and I start to look for an “I don’t hate the Midwest! I don’t!” book to read—or a continental one.

If we try to shrink JF’s brain too much, we might attract Chris (though I know that’s not necessarily his forte)! I think G’s got it backwards: JF is actually very vulnerable, and like most such people, that’s why he acts like an ass (through his public persona, anyway).

That said, I also related to The Corrections in a frightening way, if only because I “totally got” the family dynamic he portrayed. Yes, too personal to get into here. :)

And he’s attractive, which he knows, I’m sure, the knowledge of which undoubtedly contributes to his overmuch sense of himself.

Is it this then? JF refuses and/or his real vulnerability disallows him to use vulnerability as a positive marker of his personality.

I tend to agree with the he’s vulnerable and that’s why he’s such an ass perspective, although it may just be because I love his writing so much and therefore want to think well of him as a person. I read How to Be Alone and left it thinking, sort of along these lines, “I want to marry that man!” (I’m sure the author photo didn’t hurt.)

I shall have to listen to the Fresh Air interview. In the meantime, though, if you haven’t already, you’ll definitely want to read this essay, by JF’s (I believe still current) girlfriend.

Blast! I just remembered! About halfway through the interview (I know you’ve listened to it by now) J. Franz talks about how he undertook to write about three unwritable things, all at once: 1) his marriage, 2) global warming, and—get this—3) his newfound love for birdwatching. I was amazed. The only thing he could say against birds was that somebody might call him “bird nerd.” Of course, now that he’s confessed and written about the unwritable, he can be proud of his birdwatching.

Geez. Surely, he never read nature writing.

Speaking of, when we came home this evening, a juvenile red tail hawk swooped down in our backyard, grabbed a chipmunk or squirrel, and flew into a low branch of a tree. We walked over close, but it took off, its prize in its clutches.

L! The title alone of that essay is awesome!

the essay itself is really good…

and sometimes TG just asks the worst questions on the planet

but, i haven’t listened to the interview…

to be Midwestern and to dis New York is actually to dis the Midwestern who has moved to New York and now has a sense of self-importance and not really New York. can New Yorkers be over-inflated with the importance of their own city? sure… but it’s never as bad as the emigre (suburbanite, midwesternite, southernite) who moves to New York and believes him or herself to have not only found his or her spiritual home but an excuse to express his or her sense of superiority. it’s the suddenly urbane being dised by those who secretly wished they were urbane.

so it looks like librarians go for JF (Laura and me both). wonder if Kathryn C. is a librarian???

By her essay, probably not, but it might be that JF doesn’t like librarians (sorry Richard). We should, though, find out what the other librarian, JAW, thinks!

even if he LOVES librarians, alas i’m the wrong sex for JF. [sigh] my fellow book clubbers said i should be glad he’s not on my team.

Dream, Richard; always dream. :)

Alison and I happened to catch the interview and afterwards asked each other, “is it just me, or is he a slimy little prick?”

Barrett Hathcock, in a really nice review of Nicholson Baker that makes me both cringe—the tedium!—and want to read Room Temperature, describes J. Franz exactly right:

Jonathan Franzen might wear a leather jacket, but he’d probably apologize for it.