Jonathan Franzen (1959, USA) is the author of two best selling novels. The Corrections (2001) received the National Book Award (major American award) and was also selected by the Oprah Book Club, as was his 2010 book Freedom. He frequently appears on American television, has been on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was on the cover of Time Magazine. Say whatever you like about Oprah, I cannot think of anyone else in the world who has done more in the last ten years to stimulate reading than her. When The Corrections was selected by Oprah for her book club, Franzen at first was concerned this would cause his book to be seen as "for women only". This caused a controversy which helped propel his book to best selling status when he apparently declined to go on her show. In 2010 when his second book was selected he went on her show and it was mutual gushes all round. He seems to be a frequent guest on American talk shows and has even appeared in cartoon form on "The Simpsons".
I recently purchased an excellent anthology of short stories, all of which are set in New York City and all of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker. There are stories by lots of new to me writers in the collection, some authors I have read before, and some I am familiar with but have not yet read. I was glad a story by Jonathan Franzen was in the collection.
The central character in "The Failure" is a thirty-nine year man who was recently fired from his position as a professor at a New York City College. He specialized in Renaissance Studies and was fired for several reasons, but mostly for improper sexual contact with a female student. Everybody in his small family seems very successful but him. His parents live in an expensive apartment and his sister is partners in a very popular and trendy restaurant. He has a girl friend but she seems in the process of dumping him.
His relationship with his parents is interestingly depicted. He seems to define himself in opposition to the values of his parents. In one funny scene we learn of the time the man intentionally brought over his very vocal Marxist girl friend just so she could make his rock hard conservative father go crazy.
He sent a two page synopsis of a play he wrote to a well known theatrical agent. She loved the synopsis but once she saw the actual play seemed to show a total obsession with breasts she will not return his phone calls.
The story is really slice of the life of the characters in the story, with the focus on the male lead character.
"The Failure" is written in a light handed easy to read fashion and I am glad I read it. Based on this small sample, I would say if I had a free copy of one of Franzen's books I would maybe start it but I would not buy one of his works.
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