I don't mean to continually be caught in the swirl of Franzenia, but I was sent a post from last Friday by Janet Fitch that I thought was worth passing on. Having gotten to talk to him last week and see him respond to a room full of varying levels of adoration and skepticism with both humor and skepticism of his own (in part by telling a room full of Amazon employees how much he dislikes the Kindle), I thought Fitch made a compelling defense of his, well, prickliness. She's talking about his appearance in LA, where he was interviewed onstage by Meghan Daum:
I would not have wanted to change places with her. He is a difficult
interviewee"“though I don't think he means to be, he just very clearly
struggles to speak with precision, authenticity and honesty, and is
embarrassed and uncomfortable with anything that would tempt another
writer to cozy up to an audience or be a "good boy" for the
interviewer"“the very trait that caused his Oprah troubles to begin
We are not used to seeing difficult, authentic, often awkwardly
honest writers on the national stage. We expect prominent writers to be
performing seals to a certain degree, dealing with interviews and
audiences with the confidence and aplomb of pitchmen selling miracle
floorwaxes at the County Fair. So to see someone struggling to be
honest and authentic, rather than charming and appealing, is a lot like
catching an appearance of Hailey's Comet.
I would extend that by saying that we either expect our prominent writers to be performing seals or charismatic recluses like Pynchon, Salinger, or, nearly, Denis Johnson. Or, if they are going to confront us awkwardly, at least do it with the counterculture brio of a Mailer or Hunter S. Thompson. But Franzen is both polite and awkward, wanting to be accepted and not wanting to say what would make it easier for us to do so, and I think that's part of why he ends up being such a lightning rod. He's as uncomfortable playing the bad boy as he is the good boy.
Read on (including the celebration of thesauri)--it's a great post that, among other things, made me want to read more by Janet Fitch. --Tom