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Old 04-26-2016, 12:12 AM View Post #2 (Link)
Dabs (Offline)
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This is such an interesting reaction because it's actually kind of different than mine and the reactions of a lot of people I know.

I enjoyed this book. I was entertained by it, but I would keep it a fine distance away from anything considered "Great American Literature". Although, to be fair, I really don't give a shit about what is and is not a great American novel. I just don't think it's all that deft. Entertaining, yes, but not deft.

I found it interesting that you called the prose dense. That first section, sure, but after that it's fairly easy reading in my opinion. Even the political and legal diatribes are written in a simplistic way that doesn't really ask much of the reader, in terms of the prose. The content is a bit challenging, yes, but not the presentation. I actually really appreciated the fact that he even took the time to include that stuff. It's nice to see people breaking from the very politically motivated existence of the "show, don't tell" status quo without making it completely fucking unbearable and overly verbose (Franzen is a bit verbose, and often needlessly so, but he's almost like verbose-lite).

Stylistically, Franzen always struck me as someone who wrote high-minded literature for the average reader--which is definitely a pretentious thing to say. That said, I do think the notion of an average reader is a bit contrived and actually harder to define than most might think since we are, you know, complex individuals. I guess my point is that Franzen wants to be both challenging and sell lots of books, and as such his style is... kinda bleh. It lacks conviction, in my opinion, and I think it's why it can feel so extraneous and superficial. In other words, his verbosity is a bit pointless.

The form of the novel is also kind of grating and annoying, and I wonder why it couldn't have been presented in a simpler format. You're definitely right in saying that Patty's chapters sound just like Franzen... which kind of defeats the point of them being in the first person at all. Joey and Richard are really annoying characters. Richard's whole purpose in the novel, in terms of plot, seems to boil down to a very simple, singular point in the end
you know, leaving that thing in that place so you-know-who could find it.
Joey's character arc didn't feel well resolved, either. I mean, he has one, but his relationship with Connie isn't adequately addressed, I felt. Joey was probably the main reason I struggled with the novel. I actually stopped for a few weeks during his second chapter (I think it was his second) because I just found him so unbearable.

So much of this book is frustrating for me, and so much of it fails. Like I said, I find it entertaining, and I appreciate that he diverges from some writing school standards--god knows we could use some more politically-minded, challenging literature in the mainstream--but he doesn't pull everything together. I probably won't read this again and I'd certainly keep it off my list of Great American Novels.
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