Thursday, August 27, 2015

Purity by Jonathan Franzen review – dazzling, hilarious and problematic

Franzen’s first novel in five years demonstrates again that he is an exceptional writer – but one whose portrayal of women lacks nuanceJonathan Franzen by Beowulf Sheehan

Delicious observations of contemporary life … Jonathan Franzen. Photograph: Beowulf Sheehan

When I reached page 207 of my advance copy of Purity, I did something I’ve never before done as a reviewer, something that quite possibly was a breach of professional protocol but seemed so inevitable as to have been scripted by Jonathan Franzen himself: I used my iPhone to take a picture of a particular paragraph and tweeted it. The paragraph quotes a middle-aged writer and professor named Charles discussing contemporary publishing with a young woman named Pip:

While Franzen has, since the 2001 publication of The Corrections, been hailed for his extraordinary sentences and ability to capture the American zeitgeist, as well as reviled for ostensible arrogance and sexism (more on those in a bit), his fiction had never struck me as overtly self-referential. With this passage, was he making fun of himself? Of a false public perception of him as egomaniacal? Of publishing culture? Presumably, at the least, he was baiting someone like me to do exactly what I did.  More

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