American literary fiction: No Girls Allowed, "feminist Franzenfreude" edition


Check out this protest by some writers of the coronation of Jonathan Franzen by the American literary establishment as the next Leo Tolstoy:

This time around a couple of best-selling female writers, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, have tweeted their disdain for what they see as critical fawning over Franzen’s new novel, Freedom.

Weiner has even come up with a phrase to describe her feelings: Franzenfreude.

“Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the pain of others,” Weiner says. “Franzenfreude is taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen.”

But her angst is not just about the book — or even about Franzen himself.

“It’s about the establishment choosing one writer and writing about him again and again and again,” Weiner says, “while they are ignoring a lot of other worthy writers and, in the case of The New York Times, entire genres of books.”

So why Franzen, and not (for example) Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, or Barbara Kingsolver?  Gee:  I wonder!

“It’s just interesting to sort of stack them up against a Lorrie Moore or against a Mona Simpson — who write books about families that are seen as excellent books about families,” Weiner says. “And then to look at a Jonathan Franzen who writes a book about a family but we are told this is a book about America.”

Now, I really liked Franzen’s The Corrections, and I asked for Freedom for my birthday this year.  But Picoult and Weiner are absolutely correct.  As I have argued here before American literary fiction has no room for womenI have assumed that I like Franzen’s work because I too am a white, Protestant midwesterner who grew up in a particular kind of family and neighborhood at a particular moment in the twentieth century, and I thought The Corrections captured that very well, in addition to offering a lengthy sub-plot that was a hilarious academic comedy of errors.  I don’t have any illusions that his subjectivity is the only “Great American” subjectivity, like a lot of the reviewers of certain clever men novelists seem to think.  (Take David Foster Wallace, for example–please.  Now he wrote some clever and entertaining things, but was anyone else annoyed by his writerly tics of returning to tennis and Illinois all of the time?  Who the frack cares about tennis or Illinois?  How are they such universal concerns?)

It’s like John Updike’s blurb on the book jacket of the Joyce Carol Oates novel I took with me on vacation a few weeks ago said:  “If there were such a term as a woman of letters, Oates would deserve it.”  That’s the view of the inbred, talking-only-to-themselves New York-based American literary establishment of The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker.  “If there were such a term as woman of letters”–but of course, there isn’t, and our literary tastemakers who are nearly all the same age, sex, regional background, and race will make sure it never happens!

Good for Picoult and Weiner.  Their courageous stand will win them nothing, and will probably cost them a lot.  I guess they can kiss their hopes for future reviews in the New York Times goodbye!

0 thoughts on “American literary fiction: No Girls Allowed, "feminist Franzenfreude" edition

  1. What about the intrusive and pornographic portrayals of women in *Freedom?* Since there are incredible amounts of porn around these days, do novels have to compete with porn to draw male readership?


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