Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"The Failure" by Jonathan Franzen

"The Failure" by Jonathan Franzen  (1999, 18 pages)

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.       

Please share your experience with Franzen with us.

Mel u


WordsBeyondBorders said...

Hi Mel,
Based on your synopsis, the story seems to be a minor version of his novel 'Corrections'. That's a very engrossing read and I enjoyed it thoroughly. 'Freedom' however turned out to be a kind of disappointment. You can read the first chapter (prologue) of 'Freedom' here.

That's probably about the good part in the book.

@parridhlantern said...

I have Corrections, but have not yet got around to reading it, I bought with a lot of other books on a whim in some charity bookstall but haven't found the impetuous to read it.

Arti said...

I bought Corrections together with a whole box of other books in the annual book sale (all for $1.50 each) but I'm afraid it's still in the box. And since your first commenter says this story is a mini version, I just might read it to get a feel of the book. Thanks for this review.

Mel u said...

WordsBeyondBorders. Thanks very much for the link

Arti. Glad to hear you got it at a low prize

Parrish Lantern. I bet his best sellers are in a lot of bargain bins

Tea said...

I would luv to read The Failure. Many of us, I'm sure, could identify with it. Hate that it's not online.

JoV said...

What a coincidence! I bought Corrections yesterday. Can't wait to read it.

Mel u said...

Tea-yes lots of us can for sure ID with the story-thanks so much for your comment and visit

JoV-this is a coincidence-I will look forward to your thoughts on Corrections-thanks as always for your comments and visits

JoAnn said...

The New Yorker ran an short story extract of his novel, Freedom, too. It was called "Good Neighbors", I wrote about it here for Short Story Monday:
Not sure if you need to be a subscriber to access that content. I loved both The Corrections and Freedom.

Bellezza said...

When I first saw your post title I thought you were referring to Franzen himself as The Failure. To which I would have to whole-heartedly agree. I've only read The Corrections, which was such an abysmal portrayl of our culture it practically made me weep. I thought it was so sad the way that he created characters which were completely lost and, well, soulless in my opinion. I have no desire to pick up anything else by him, and as long as I'm bashing people I'll say that I think Oprah's done very little for book reading. Everything she's recommended is already well known (such as the classics, as if she personally discovered them) or some new author who only writes of death and despair. Or women being raped and abused. I'm so done with her.

Mel u said...

JoAnn-thanks as always for your comment and visit

Bellezza-On Oprah-yes she does seem to claim the classics she has selected as her own discoveries-her approach is largely emotion based-glad to get your advise on Franzen's longer works-

Sushma Joshi said...

Hi Mel: Thank you for posting this review. It sounds a lot like "The Corrections"--in a way, its good to learn he fitted the heart of his novel into a single short story. This is a lesson to those of us who write short stories that there's a novel lurking--if only we spent eight years with industrial strength headphones on, writing down the voices from our past! Apparently this is how long it took him to write the book . A lot of critics say short stories and novels are unconnected genres but this is a good example of how writers are often working on the same material with two genres at the same time.
Sushma Joshi
Kathmandu, Nepal