Monday, October 4, 2010

Odds and Ends: A Brief Update

So, first off, I will admit that I have put Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom back on the shelf, unfinished. I have pushed onward through 350 pages of this book and I realize that, with the exception of some fine passages in the first act, most of the writing--the prose itself--is simply okay, and this sort of ongoing okayness is getting on my nerves. I am simply not enjoying the simple act of reading this book, so I quit. Also, I think that not only is the prose merely okay, the story--that is, the characters, the premises, the plot and the conflicts--is also merely okay. Possibly the story is less than okay. Hell, the story is insignificant and I just don't care what happens to any of the characters. Neither, I suspect, does Mr. Franzen care so why should I bother with it?

This book is alleged--not by Franzen but by many reviewers/readers--to be about modern day America, and is alleged to discuss important topics like the Iraq war, corporate greed, the environment, et cetera. But the thing is, Franzen and his characters mention all of these topics, but none of them are actually discussed. Nothing of any real import is explored. This book is not about anything except the vapid and selfish lives of some folks from the Midwest. Everyone is sort of just floundering about in the middle of this floundering novel and I have swum to shore from where I can sit and watch Freedom sink to the bottom without me on board. So that's that. I'm going to read other things (first Tinkers and then Finnegans Wake).

Also, tomorrow I begin revising Killing Hamlet. First step: read the entire manuscript. I have already got a growing stack of notes for bits and bobs I want to add to the narrative, and this afternoon it occured to me that it might be both fun and appropriate to have Hamlet allude to Beowulf, which is the prototypical Danish myth. We'll see.


  1. You are mistaken. Write to me in PM.

  2. Hi Scott,
    I'm the "anon" that vented the other day about Freedom. I've been checking your blog to see what you ended up doing. I really agree with your final analysis, and your decision to set it aside. It's been refreshing to read someone's response that was similar to my own. And you've chose a terrific antidote -- Tinkers is absolutely wonderful! It's lyrical, challenging, beautifully written, and while it took me a while to care about the characters, in the end I was deeply moved. One of the best books I've read in a long time -- hope you enjoy it too!

  3. I can't believe you gave Freedom 350 pages.

    A nod to Beowulf would be great. I love the phrase "bits and bobs" btw.

  4. Anonymous: That's funny about the PM, because you're writing anonymously.

    Eli: It's possible that I'll pick up the Franzen and finish it some time, but only because unfinished work bugs me, not because I want to read more of that book. It's sort of a shame that Freedom got so much hype, that it's been touted as a must-read novel of great social importance, because it certainly can't live up to that hype. It's a middling book with some flaws that might not bother other readers, but they bother me enough to keep shoving me out of the story and I'm done battling with Franzen.

    Lois: I really wanted to like this book. The first chapter is really good but it doesn't go anywhere from there. I waited for it to pick back up, gather steam, show me that Franzen cared about the characters, but none of that happened.

    Yeah, a Beowulf reference is going to dive into the first chapter, I think. I have no idea where I stole "bits and bobs" from. I got it from Mighty Reader, likely.

  5. It is remarkable, it is an amusing phrase

  6. Especially awesome if you believe Beowulf is a kenning for bear.

  7. Anonymous: Is the phrase just a phase upon which to remark if you're able?

    Nevets: I'm revising now, so I have the chance to work the bear imagery into the MS all the way through. And that's exactly what I'm doing.