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Frozen Franzenage

What do you think of the phrase "Franzenfreude"?

I think in German it literally means "joy in Franzen." But I'm no stranger to literary envy and am in no position to deplore it in others.

There's been discussion in the Salon Reading Club about which character in "Freedom" most represents you. Which one is it?

All four characters draw equally on my experience of life, though I admit to having a particular fondness for the youngest of them.

The characters in "Freedom" appear to make decisions, but they're all rooted in their experience and biology. It's striking, for example, how much like Patty's father Walter turns out to be, and her relationships with both Walter and Richard make all sorts of sense on the basis of her upbringing. Where do you come down, ultimately, on the question of free will?

This is exactly the kind of question I want to leave to the reader. The novelist is responsible for creating an experience, not for interpreting it.

The book has received a tremendous amount of publicity. Is there another book that you really liked that has recently come out, that you think might have been overshadowed by your own?

I've been so busy with publicity that I haven't been able to read any recent releases, but reliable friends have told me that Jennifer Egan's and Gary Shteyngart's new books are very good.

Of the criticisms you've read of the book, which hits home the hardest?

Well, I don't read reviews, so I'm not familiar with the criticisms. But I'm sad when I do a public event and somebody tells me -- as if an author would want to hear this! -- that my characters are unlikable. I feel like I'm being told that I myself am unlikable.

[. . .]

Obama famously was photographed with a copy of "Freedom." If he read it, what do you hope he took away?

I hope he was so preoccupied with urgent national affairs that he wasn't able to take away much more than a general enjoyment of the experience. I didn't vote for him in expectation of his mooning around pondering literary novels.

In a way, the book is about watching flawed humans during the downturn of an empire using their glorious "freedom" to do damage to those they love, to animals, to other countries. In writing the book, were you thinking of George W. Bush's use and misuse of the word "freedom"?

I was indeed. (Jonathan Franzen interviewed by Laura Miller, “Reading Club interview: Jonathan Franzen answers your questions,” Salon, 25 Sept. 2010)

- - - - -

That's It?

I was somewhat disappointed in the short, rather superficial answers to the questions considering all the hype this Q&A received over the past month. (Jason C)

Jason C

He knows we're looking for more, to open him up, so he answers questions in such a way that HE remains tight and WE are likely to feel as if we were less interested in answers than in satisfaction at his expense ... even if we weren't (we're all flawed, don't you know -- though much more flawed than our superb but self-effacing and delightfully polished and restrained god, Obama. [Franzen knows this, and so his flawed self still has one up on all of us.]). It's not an interview, it's a moral lesson. The best you can get from him is a draw. He'll offer an answer that can be readily argued as inarguably complete and honest -- all what we said we were looking for -- but feels deliberately cut-short and essentially withholding. And you can drumbeat keep moving on through with your interview. The world is made a better place.

He doesn't read reviews ... One wonders how much of the current love for Franzen (including Oprah's), is born out of our seeking abeyance and approval by the cold and withholding? Even in his icyness, he's probably just responding to our needs, and resents the hell out of us for this.

Even in a frozen Franzenage, I'd still "take" Kingsolver. But not without some power-ups -- his chill is everywhere, man!

Link: Reading Club interview: Jonathan Franzen answers your questions (Salon)


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