It seems that Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel is all the rage…even though it hasn’t even been published yet. The New York Times has already published a lengthy review (by Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus no less), while other publications across the world weigh in as well. Tanenhaus calls it a “masterpiece of American fiction.” He writes, “Once again Franzen has fashioned a capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life.” Even President Obama has been rumored to have received an early copy and is enjoying it on his vacation. By the way, the novel is called Freedom, and it doesn’t arrive in stores until Tuesday.
Yet, in the article I linked to above, Julie Bosman writes that some of the early praise has started a bit of controversy. Does the book deserve it, so soon? And does the New York Times (and other publications) favor the white male author over all others? She writes, “Within this Franzenfrenzy there is the whiff of Franzenfury, or Franzenfreude, as the novelist Jennifer Weiner has called it. She and Ms. Picoult have recently unleashed a steady stream of Twitter jabs about Mr. Franzen and The New York Times, charging that female novelists are unjustly overlooked by critics.
â€œDo I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan â€˜Geniusâ€™ Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely,â€ said Ms. Weiner in an interview that the Huffington Post conducted with her and Ms. Picoult. For Ms. Picoultâ€™s part, â€œI want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Jonathan Franzen,â€ she said in the interview. â€œI hope I read (â€˜Freedomâ€™) and love it. None of this was motivated as a critique against him or his work, just that he is someone The Times has chosen to review twice in seven days.â€”
For a complete list of all that’s been said about the book, check out the post from Amazon’s book blog. A few highlights from that post include:
* Sam Anderson in New York: “Few modern novelists rival Franzen in that primal skill of creating life, of tricking us into believing that a text-generated set of neural patterns, a purely abstract mind-event, is in fact a tangible human being that we can love, pity, hate, admire, and possibly even run into someday at the grocery store.”
* Jonathan Jones in the Guardian: “This new book demands comparison rather with Saul Bellow’s Herzog or something loftier â€“ it is self-evidently a modern classic…. Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century.”
* David Ulin in the Los Angeles Times: “For Franzen, this is the trick: not to outgrow who we are but instead to accept it, and in so doing, to accept the world of which we are a part. That’s the freedom to which the title is referring, the freedom at the center of this consuming and extraordinarily moving book.”
Franzen is scheduled to make an appearance here in St. Paul on September 21, as part of the Talking Volumes series. It is especially interesting in that the book is also set in St. Paul. It should be quite an event.
One last word from Tanenhaus about the book: “Like all great novels, â€œFreedomâ€ does not just tell an engrossing story. It illuminates, through the steady radiance of its authorâ€™s profound moral intelligence, the world we thought we knew.” I can’t wait to read it. I’ve already got my copy pre-ordered.