Farther away: essays.
Acclaimed American writer Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his third novel, The Corrections (2001) and widespread praise for his fourth novel, Freedom ([EXCELLENT] SELECTION Nov/Dec 2010). He has also published a memoir and a previous collection of essays.
THE TOPIC: The 22 essays included in Franzen's latest collection celebrate the vital, interconnected roles played by love, identity, and authenticity in a society as networked, accelerated, and self-absorbed as ours. Among them, "I Just Called to Say I Love You" explores the cultural pitfalls of public protestations of love, and "Our Little Planet" describes a family outing on the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The title essay ruminates on the suicide of Franzen's fellow novelist and close friend David Foster Wallace, who, concludes Franzen, killed himself because he "never quite felt that he deserved to receive love." Love shapes our identity, Franzen argues, by stripping us bare of external trappings. "Engagement with something you love compels you to face up to who you really are." Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 336 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374153571
Christian Science Monitor [EXCELLENT]
"There is an interesting tension between Franzen's crisp, clear prose--even intensely self-reflexive passages are crisply, clearly so--and the digressive form his essays often take. ... Farther Away is such a wonderful collection because of the things Franzen is for--the ennobling effects of love and imaginative experience, our need to escape from the isolated self and journey farther away, toward other places and other people." ANTHONY DOMESTICO
Minneapolis Star Tribune [EXCELLENT]
"Combining personal history with cultural events and the minutiae of daily life, Franzen evokes Joan Didion's tone of rigorous self-examination, and Wallace's wit and philosophical prowess. Whether he is writing about technologies' assault on sincerity or analyzing Alice Munro's short stories, what emerges are works of literary theory and cultural critique that are ambitious, brooding and charmingly funny." KATHRYN SAVAGE
Los Angeles Times [EXCELLENT]
"Farther Away offers a series of takes on the actual life, as filtered through Franzen's abiding obsessions: literature, birding and (yes) himself. ... But if, at times, Franzen himself seems to want to frame the collection as his side of an ongoing discussion with his dead friend [David Foster Wallace] about art and life and the necessity of engagement--'I understood,' he writes at one point, 'the difference between his unmanageable misery and my manageable discontents to be that I could escape myself in the joy of birds and he could not'--that is, ultimately, too reductive a lens." DAVID L. ULIN
Boston Globe ***
"Is it good? The answer is a muted 'intermittently.' ... Without knowing that these essays are the product of Jonathan Franzen, many don't merit republication." MICHAEL WASHBURN
NYTimes Book Review ***
"Franzen's latest collection, ... while not nearly as strong as his novels, still has its attractions, as might be expected from so insightful and resourceful a writer. ... The struggle to be a good human being, against the pulls of solipsism and narcissism, can be glimpsed in every page of these essays, which if nothing else offers a telling battle report from within the consciousness of one of our major novelists." PHILLIP LOPATE
San Francisco Chronicle ***
"[A] new collection of essays that's beautifully written, but bland. ... Franzen still blasts everything from lawn mowers to MFAs to Microsoft Word, but he rarely aims this prickliness at larger issues." CRAIG FEHRMAN
"Franzen is American literature's grouch in chief," observes the Christian Science Monitor, "and he seems to relish the role." Franzen's favorite subject, according to critics, is himself, and he interweaves personal accounts, cultural analysis, literary theory, and philosophical introspection in these disordered, meandering essays, repeatedly shifting his topic and tone. And yet, they work. Although the critics could not agree on the best pieces in the collection, they were generally pleased with them. (The majority cited the title essay as a favorite.) Franzen can occasionally be sulky and hypercritical. However, it may be premature to join the San Francisco Chronicle in asking whether he has lost his edge. Franzen's crisp, incisive prose, frankness, and engaging sense of humor make Farther Away standard Franzen fare.