Franzen’s Fear of Taint by Association 


Sure, Eliza, The Corrections is a veritable opera of aspiration and snobbery—I tried to say that in my first post—and yes, Enid plays the anti-sophisticate of the bunch. But I disagree with you that Franzen is cruel to her. In fact, I’d say Franzen is in love with the geeky charm of her bad taste—her salads made with marshmallows and mayonnaise, for instance. (Or is it Russian dressing? I’d check this, but you’ve got my copy of the book in Seattle.) Franzen aims more scorn at the kids’ indulgences: Denise’s celeb-happy restaurant, Gary’s son’s expensive spy kit. And some of the book’s most admirable tricks involve the parallels between the parents’ and the kids’ respective forms of striving—Enid’s elegance-envy is in every way the parent of her daughter’s fashion-conscious cuisine. As our reviewers point out here, it’s also where some of the best writing in the book comes: Our sympathy for Enid is too powerful to be anything but the result of Franzen’s planning.

And no, Chris, I wouldn’t usually suggest asking writers to live up to the moral standards of their work. But it’s hard not to flinch—to feel disappointed—when you see Franzen violating them during the course of promoting the self-same book, especially when you took the book to heart as much as I did. Meanwhile: Franzen, a bad interview? The man who confides that he writes blindfolded, as Josh incredulously points out? This is a guy who commits what almost everyone has called a major blunder and then, instead of hiding in his room, keeps giving contemplative interviews about it. I’ll Q his A anytime.

Also, just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with Franzen’s lukewarm-ish pans of other Oprah picks. (After she dismissed him, many people hoped that Franzen would act like the literary brat he’s accused of being and let loose with a splashing, crashing rant about Oprah and all she surveys.) What I can’t understand is his fear that his book might be tainted by association—that all of his talent, hard work, masterful execution, and rave reviews might be mysteriously overpowered by some maudlin smell lingering from Oprah’s last pick. If that’s the case, why not also refuse Wal-Mart (one of the nation’s largest booksellers) or People magazine, for fear that the book will be contaminated by or confused with the inferior work sold or reviewed on the next shelf or page? (This is what Dave Eggers has done: created a private literary universe where he gets to set all the rules, pick all his fellow authors, approve every cover, and even try to pre-empt his press coverage. And if he can make it work—well, good for him, at least he’s putting his money where his mouth is.) And yeah, Josh, I would be delighted to sport Oprah’s seal of approval. (Some goofster should make up a lapel pin with the OBC seal. It could be the mischievous fashion accessory of the season.)

Chris, I loved your riff on the condescension of thinking of Oprah as the Mother Librarian of Us All. (Her book club reminds me, not in a bad way, of those elementary school posters that say, “Reading is FUN-damental!”) Her dismissal of Franzen was so canny and disingenuous it’s worth repeating: “It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict.” Oprah, who’s made ka-jillions of dollars by publicly exploring emotional trauma!

Got to go disco. Hope your weekends are as much fun as this has been.