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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jonathan Frazen vs the Ameircan Female

When I read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (to be accurate I read half and then gave up in disgust.) I was put off by the subtle anti-female tone of the whole thing. The tone of the writing is sympathetic to Patty, (the protagonist) but her actions, thoughts and words belong to a lesser being who exists nowhere but in relation to a man, and is helplessly bound by her womanhood  to a certain destiny. Allow me to be the next of many, many women to call bullshit on that entire line of thinking.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Franzen has run afoul of females, the last time being at the release of this same book a few years ago (and to be fair, this one was not his fault, it just sort of sprung up around him). At the time, Franzen's book was hailed as a literary masterpiece by many, and one of the major points of discussion was his ability to write a female so "well". His work is, in theme and characters, very similar to the works of countless female authors writing about the world from a woman's perspective. A huge media-fueled firestorm swirled for a few weeks around Franzen and authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner. Franzen became the poster boy for a problem many see in the publishing world: say something as a female and be branded a "female-interest writer", but say the same exact thing as a male and be "important". Did Franzen deserve more attention for his work than Picoult and Weiner have received for their own (considerable) talents? I certainly didn't think so. So Picoult and Weiner both had something to say on the topic, and ultimately, they gave THIS INTERVIEW on the topic which you can now read if you want to hear their thoughts.

So now you have some background to explain why I was so interested when this article: Jonathan Franzen's Female Problem popped up in my web browsing this morning. After reading Freedom, I was not prepared to brand Franzen anti-female, I just thought the critical response to the book was horribly overblown and that he wasn't my kind of writer. Maybe, I told myself, he had some sort of weird ideas about what goes on inside the female brain, but that didn't make him a bad guy. After all, the huge conversation about female vs male writing in the media wasn't exactly his fault...and then I read the article I linked above. Now I suspect he might actually just be kind of a jerk. I don't think I really need to explain to anyone reading this blog why this article was so troublesome (go read it, it's short), but I do want to say this.

Mr Franzen, I was among those "forced" to read Ethan Frome in high school and the first time I read it I thought it was crap. So boring! Such stilted writing! Then, tragically, two years later I was forced to read it again, in another class. The funny thing is, I had grown up a bit by then and I discovered that while Wharton might not have been a keen crafter of lyrical phrase, they story itself is compelling and resonant. I tried to read Freedom and found that while each line was its own carefully built work of art, there was nothing underneath of value to me. I vastly prefer the substance to the style. (And for heaven's sake, who cares what she looked like you big jerk?!?!?!)

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