Sunday, November 23, 2014

Franzen, lady writers, and self-censorship

This short post is an interesting assessment of Jonathan Franzen's career, warts and all.

I can't talk about Franzen without losing what little feminist credibility I have, so I'm not even going to pretend to be unbiased. He and I share the same hometown, and, I think, we share a somewhat contentious relationship to said town. I count The Corrections, a late-20th century, pre-9/11 doorstop of a novel, among my favorites. Freedom I liked too, but books about aging gen-x'ers are candy for me, so it's not like I read it with a critical eye. (I liked Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings more, for what it's worth.) Unfortunately, most of the criticism I've read in the past few years wasn't of his work, but of his white guy entitlement, which has more to do with the lack of parity among male and female writers in the world of serious literature. Franzen is an easy scapegoat. His -- and it pains me to write such an inglorious phrase -- "lady issues" seem more foot-in-mouth than malevolent.

For this one, scan to the part about self-censoring.

It's baffling to me that a reader would think that an author would necessarily endorse her character's racist views. Call me idealistic, but I don't think readers are that daft. I've written many time about the dangers of self-censorship, particularly for novice writers, and the hell of culling through your words for even the slightest offense. I think art should be off limits -- at least in the production stage. It's not a popular opinion anymore, but I'll live with it.