Friday, April 25, 2008

Random note on Jonathan Franzen

I love Jonathan Franzen. I read "The Corrections" and I actually found it somewhat meh, too much suburban angst for me and the whole plot with Cam or whatever the oldest pervy professor son's name was in Eastern Europe eerily reminiscent of "The Russian Debutante's Handbook," but there is no denying that Franzen is a great writer. I just think I prefer his non-fiction. I actually loved "The Discomfort Zone," self-indulgence be damned, and this morning I read (most of, it was a long piece and the shuttle ride was shorter than usual) his latest piece for the New Yorker, "The Way of the Puffin" (abstract only), about China and environmentalism and development and shit. He is just really good at saying things just perfectly. Observe:

About his Chinese guide: "He had the fashionably angular eyeglasses and ingratiating eagerness of an untenured literature professor."

The best part about him, besides the occasional little funny things that always catch me off guard, is that he's just as good at summing up real issues as he is about pinpointing these exactitudes. And he's honest about his flaws, even while embracing them in that self-indulgent way of his, in a way that somehow seems to make you question yourself and your motivations, as if he's sort of rubbing off the patina of self-satisfaction. Like here: "I could make a pretty good ethical argument for our responsibility to other species, and yet I wondered whether, at root, my concern for biodiversity and animal welfare might be a kind of regression to my childhood bedroom and its community of plush toys: a fantasy of cuddliness and interspecies harmony." As a stuffed animal girl myself, this struck me, especially since earlier in this same New Yorker there was a ridiculous article about these tigers in India who actually eat people, like, on a regular basis, just grab them by the throat and drag them off into the jungle. (They obviously only do it when humans are in their territory, they don't like wander purposefully into villages, usually, but they do it without provocation and there's basically no way to avoid it, not like standing tall to make a bear scared of you.)

Anyway this is a largely pointless post, just yet another stream of consciousness, and I really needed to share those little nuggets of Franzen. God, I'm glad it's Friday.

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