Friday, September 22, 2006

'The Corrections' ...

I've been interested in reading Jonathan Franzen's doorstop ever since the blowout he had with Oprah when she chose his work for her book club.

Franzen got in a snit, not wanting a logo on the cover of his book, saying that while Oprah had picked some good titles, she'd also picked some that were "schmaltzy" and "one-dimensional." I got the feeling that Franzen felt his book was just too darn literary for the masses.

And then it went on to win a National Book Award. Yeah? Well, "The Shipping News" won a National Book Award and I couldn't stand it.

I was an English major. I pride myself on the fact that I've only ever read one John Grisham book ("The Firm," to see what all the fuss was about). I'm not a book snob. I don't purposely steer clear of pop fiction, but I like to tackle "serious" books with "meanings."

So, a couple of months ago - July, maybe? - I headed to the library, which I underutilize, and checked out "The Corrections" for two weeks. Two weeks later, I renewed it for another two weeks. I returned it, after a month, having read about 150 pages - it weighs in at 568 - and figured I'd check it out again in a day or two. And then I went to the bookstore and happened to see a hardcover copy (replete with Oprah logo!) for around 7 bucks. Sold. Now I could slog through it at my leisure.

And slog I did. I finished it this morning, having woken up annoyingly early, and not being in any hurry to get a jump on this overcast day. I actually exhaled when I finished reading it, as though I'd just finished a long, taxing journey.

My cousin Patty, who reads books for a living, being a marketing director for a publisher, revealed to me that she'd stopped reading the book after a couple of chapters. "You never told me THAT!" I said. She replied that she didn't want to sway my opinion, wanting to know what I thought of it when I was done.

My short review to her this morning was "self-congratulatory bloat."

It's a long book, and I'm not sure why. Each of the characters could be drawn with many fewer strokes. And I could have done with a lot less exposition about one of the character's incontinence issues. And I really could have done with a lot less exposition about the hallucinations of one of the character's incontinence issues. Yeah, you heard me.

Franzen recently released "The Discomfort Zone," of which the New York Times says, "In his new memoir, 'The Discomfort Zone,' Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed." Which could be seen as praise, as success: If you set out to write an odious self-portrait and the New York Times calls your book an odious self-portrait, you've done good, right?

But the Times goes on to say, "While some readers will want to give Mr. Franzen points for being so revealing about himself, there is something oddly preening about his self-inventory of sins, as though he actually reveled in being so disagreeable. And while it doubtless takes a degree of self-absorption for anyone to write a memoir, in the case of this book the author’s self-involvement not only makes for an incredibly annoying portrait, but also funnels the narrative into a dismayingly narrow channel."

"Incredibly annoying portrait." Bingo.

"Self-congratulatory bloat."

Yup, sounds like two books from the same pen.


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