On November 21, 2023 member Robin S. presented on the works of Jonathan Franzen. In 2010 Time magazine declared Franzen “The Great American Novelist”. By 2021, the BBC called him America’s most divisive novelist. Robin looked at the author’s evolution and by the end of her talk, she made a good case for picking up one of Franzen’s novels. Robin started by introducing her special guest, Coffee. Coffee is a service dog in-training.
Jonathan Franzen is a prolific fiction and non-fiction writer. His novels The Corrections, Freedom, and Crossroads look at unhappy family life in middle America. He has written a memoir, The Discomfort Zone, which is really 6 essays about his life. For the speaker, Franzen’s detailing of his teenage angst was in the discomfort zone.
In addition he has authored a number of essays on a wide range of topics, frequently in a confrontational style. His essays and interviews frequently go a step to far and have landed him in controversies with Oprah fans, environmental groups, and the Audubon Society (among others). In his interviews and essays, Franzen has shown his intense personality. He is a compulsive bird watcher and has advocated for protecting birds from high-rise glass.
Robin briefly outlined Franzen’s biography and gave readings from his essays. She then went on to his fictional works, which she prefers. She descried them as big social novels – family sagas that address current trends and critique American culture and politics. His style is clean, with limited use of metaphor or simile (unkind reviewers might say a lack of style). Robin gave readings from all of Mr. Franzen’s novels to illustrate his spare style.
The Corrections (2001) is a sometimes autobiographical parody of a dysfunctional American family. It was a hit, and won several prizes including The National Book Award. His success got him invited to the Oprah show. However, his negative comments about Oprah’s book club soon got him uninvited. In 2010, his next novel Freedom (Robin’s favourite) was published, again to critical acclaim. After public apologies to Oprah, Franzen this time joined her on her show. However, the universal praise for his book was used on social media as an example of bias of the literary world toward white male authors.
Crossroads (2021) is Franzen’s latest novel, and reading it led Robin to choose this author for her presentation. Again, an unhappy American family is profiled. Critical reception has been mixed.
At this meeting, we welcomed new member Eudy J. This was the last presentation of our fall session, but if you are interested in joining in the spring, click here. Our updated presentation schedule is here.