Thursday, Apr. 21, 2011

Jonathan Franzen

Every decade or so, Jonathan Franzen publishes a novel that agitates, excites and upsets vast numbers of his fellow Americans. The disturbance he creates is unusual, and it's hard to put a finger on the cause of it. He writes beautifully, but a lot of people can do that. I think the reason his books stir up so much feeling is that they remind readers that they might be watched in a way that is very different from how they are usually watched, even by novelists. He awakens in them an awareness of how vulnerable they are to exposure. The awareness shocks them. They either really like it or they really don't, but they can't ignore it.

And then Franzen, 51, vanishes, and vast numbers of Americans forget about his book — except for a lingering sense of having been altered by the experience of reading it. His influence isn't like that of a political leader or a top chef or even a gifted journalist. It's more like the influence of a natural disaster or a plane crash or a virus for which scientists can't find a cure. You don't know when Jonathan Franzen's going to happen, only that when he does, there's going to be trouble.

Lewis' most recent book is The Big Short