Jonathan Franzen, bestselling author of Freedom and The Corrections, is just days away from the Sept. 1 release of his next novel, Purity. That means the PR machine is kicking into high gear, and this divisive figure—well, divisive on the Internet, anyway—is back in the news with a pretty amusing and semi-crazy interview in the The Guardian.
The whole interview is worth a read, but there are two incredible sections that bear a closer look:
1. Franzen considered adopting an Iraqi baby, which is a noble pursuit, but his reasons were interesting.
Oh, it was insane, the idea that Kathy and I were going to adopt an Iraqi war orphan. The whole idea lasted maybe six weeks…one of the things that had put me in mind of adoption was a sense of alienation from the younger generation. They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me.
Again, his feeling of isolation from young people makes total sense. The solution of adopting a foreign baby as as sort of ongoing lab experiment? Less sensible, I’d say. Amazingly, it was his editor who dissuaded him.
“And my New Yorker editor, Henry Finder, was horrified by the notion. We were in a bar. He picked up a pair of toothpicks and made the sign of the cross and held it in front of him and said, ‘Please don’t do that.’ And then he paused and said, ‘But maybe we can rent you some young people.’”
That was the genesis behind Franzen’s year-long study on a group of recent college graduates, which culminated with a piece for the magazine.
2. If you thought Jonathan Franzen was hated by feminists now, it looks like Purity will take that hatred to a whole new level. Let’s start with one of the main characters:
The fact that Anabel is a feminist so warped and fanatical that she forces Tom to, for example, atone for his maleness by sitting down on the toilet to pee, will be received by Franzen’s feminist critics as an aggressive act, a deliberate ridiculing of the cause, which he concedes is somewhat the case. “There’s a certain degree of glee in putting that stuff in the book. Because I know that if you are hostile, you will find ammunition.”
I am not somebody you’d call a hard-line feminist, which might explain why I find that so funny—Franzen is trolling his ideological opponents from inside a novel! And he’s doing it in a way that is far more effective, and hilarious, than (for instance) Nic Pizzolatto’s dis of Cary Fukunaga.
Franzen defends himself in the interview as “not a sexist,” but as you might guess, that has not prevented an immediate backlash—a solid ten days before the book has even been released!
Jennifer Weiner, who has not had the best of relationships with Franzen, also went to town on Twitter in a 10-tweet rant against Franzen.
This was probably not unexpected for Franzen, who isn’t afraid to rail against the Internet, as revealed in The Guardian.
What worries Franzen is the potentially deforming effect these new forces might have on the novelist’s interior landscape. “The ways in which self-censorship operates. The fear of being called a bad name. People become very careful. And it becomes very hard to be creative, actually. Because you’re worried about what you might be called, and whether it’s fair or not.” It is also, he says, a question of resisting pressure to engage in forums that, for the novelist, can only undermine the task at hand. “It used to be possible to do a lot of things that had no content within a capitalist context. For example, creating art. And there used to be rather serious firewalls between the artist and the buying public – the gallery, the publisher. And technology demolishes that wall and basically says, self-promote or die. And that is a bad head for any sort of artist to be forced into.”
In conclusion, the run-up to Purity is already super dramatic, and it’s only going to get better as we approach the release date.