Jonathan Franzen on Reckoning with the Limits and Purposes of Writing Novels
This Week on the Radio Open Source Podcast
Open Source is the world’s longest-running podcast. Christopher Lydon circles the big ideas in culture, the arts and politics with the smartest people in the world. It’s the kind of curious, critical, high-energy conversation we’re all missing nowadays.
Jonathan Franzen might just be the last of the fine-grained, big-book portraitists of “the way Middle America lives”—especially the intimate deceptions that family relations are made of. His new novel, Crossroads, goes 600 pages deep inside a church family, coming apart: preacher dad in adultery, wife in recovery, four headstrong kids, and Satan with a speaking part. What’s new in the new Franzen may be the turn toward compassion and the hope of redemption. A realist with an edgy American sense of humor and 21st-century dread, you feel his artistic kinship with the Infinite Jest of David Foster Wallace—his brilliant friend who flamed out.
From the episode:
Jonathan Franzen: I had this idea that the novel can change things. If you help make people see the injustice in the world and the corruption in the world, the world will become a better place. And my life, and also my novels, got a lot better when I let go of that idea and came around to a notion of a community of readers and writers, and that the service was not to Society with a capital S, but service to that community.
Even then, it’s been a long road to letting go of an impulse to comment on contemporary reality, to engage with it at a theoretical and issue level, and to come to what I think I’m meant to be, which is a novelist of character and psychology.
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