Book: Farther Away
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Published: 2012 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
These essays disappointed me. They all feel a lot more distant than those he collected for his first, um, collection.
I think “collection” is a good word to focus on—not because I can’t find my thesaurus (I mean, I can’t, but that’s not the point) but because it illustrates the functional differences between his first and second goes at book-length artful nonfiction: the first was a genuine collection, something that grew organically from his writings that weren’t novels but still of interest; they were all written for specific outside purposes and then brought together as an inspired afterthought.
This book, though, feels like it has a substantial amount of filler, especially the couple of short tossed-off bits of literary analysis fit between recurring themes of David Foster Wallace, bird-watching, hating on technology, and his failed marriage.
Big stuff, right? Weighty emotions to get through using the catharsis of nature and writing and the legacies of suicidal friends and everything?
I mean, I guess. Yes—the answer is yes, but Franzen held me at arms’ length to tell me. He explained, I understood, but I never felt. And his opening act, his commencement speech at the same college Wallace spoke at a few years earlier, sounded very much like the commencement speech Tom Brokaw gave at this past December graduation of my alma mater, the University of South Carolina. They both made good points. We shouldn’t ignore real people and real relationships for technology no matter how shiny.
These essays are full of good points, full of interesting tidbits both personal and factual, full of good straightforward writing, but nothing read new or especially insightful or even cranky. I was hoping at least for some cranky, but everything had this sort of flat affect that made me a little depressed because I couldn’t bury deeper into someone else’s life like I wanted to.
Selfish, I guess, but he's got to meet me at least halfway here.