Monday, August 28, 2006

Michiko Kakutani really, really doesn't like

Jonathan Franzen's memoir.

5 comments:

  1. She seems to be judging it by the protagonist's likeability, which is a poor criterion for a memoir.

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  2. Yes and no--I think that ethical questions are fair game when it comes to memoir, and that this is a very sharp and focused review (in a good way), and yet I also feel she's not being sufficiently generous about the good parts of the writing. I think I've read almost all of these essays as they've appeared in the New Yorker, haven't looked at the book; but though I also dislike the persona and don't quite see the point of such essays (read Lethem's "The Disappointment Artist" instead), I remember a number of moments of exceptional insight and beauty in these essays. Esp. a parenthetical aside about Franzen's father, I blogged it last summer and I don't think the Kakutani review gives you a sense that the book contains moments like this:

    My father was a saver of string and pencil stubs and a bequeather of fantastic Swedish Lutheran prejudices. (He considered it unfair to drink a cocktail at home before going to a restaurant, because restaurants depended on liquor sales for profits.)

    Isn't that amazing? I love it, those sentences just jumped out at me off the page (so sharp and yet so affectionate)....

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  3. I'd have to agree with Said Shirazi on this one. Michiko reviewed the persona rather than the book. Granted, it's a treacherous business to recollect your assholish behavior in tranquility--if you get the tone wrong, you sound like an asshole. But Franzen is clearly aware of what a prat he used to be, and Michiko can't accept that. Nor did she notice the tender and exasperated bits of portraiture (like the bit you quote about his father). If it's not already obvious, I thought The Discomfort Zone was tremendously good.

    By the way, your novel sounds like a real corker. I'll look forward to reading it.

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  4. Interesting. I clearly must read this book! Oh, now I'm really looking forward to it, I'm fascinated by these questions about persona and voice and ethics....

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