It’s hard to write about Jonathan Franzen’s work without writing about Jonathan Franzen the Public Figure, an entity that seems to bear surprisingly little resemblance to the man himself. Now that his reputation as a crotchety jerk is all but set in stone, it’s easy to forget that Franzen’s original sin wasn’t dissing Twitter or calling Jennifer Weiner a hack but rather some rather tepid hand-wringing during an interview with Terry Gross about whether having an Oprah’s Book Club sticker on the cover of The Corrections could be construed as selling out. In the end—by which I mean by the end of his sentence—Franzen had decided that it didn’t, but that didn’t stop Oprah from disinviting him.1
The charges have shifted and morph over the years. More recently, Franzen has been assailed for being insufficiently grief-stricken at the death of his friend David Foster Wallace2 and, retroactively, for saying that his ambition for The Corrections was that it reach a male audience.4 You get the sense that these criticisms have less to do with Franzen than what he represents—an exceedingly privileged rich white male who nonetheless finds the world disappointing and unjust. Identity politics aside, I find it really hard to look at the facts of these claims and come away with any other conclusion than that Franzen has been frequently and repeatedly swift-boated. There’s part of me that wants to avoid it all, but with his new novel, Purity, Franzen seems be directly addressing—and quite possibly trolling—his critics. Here at last, he’s given them what they’ve been waiting for—a book that openly takes aim at millennial, feminism, and the necessity of secrecy in a world where privacy is becoming an ever more alien concept.
Last Friday, the New York Times Sunday Styles page published “A Brief History of the Tough Star Profile,” reviewing notable celebrity press takedowns from Lillian Ross’ 1950 New Yorker piece on Ernest Hemingway, to Tiger Woods telling “puerile and sexist jokes” in GQ in 1997, to the most recent (and orders of magnitude less interesting) Esquire piece on Miles Teller. I don’t know who Teller is or why he’s famous, but he was quoted this month comparing his penis to a highball glass and being generally dickish. He’s probably more famous now because of it.
These kinds of profiles represent the extreme version of what David Foster Wallace was fixated on and deeply fearful of during five days he spent with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky in 1996. The possibility that Lipsky could pick and choose from hours of conversation to portray pretty much any Dave Wallace Rolling Stone wanted came up again and again while the two men were together. We know because, while Lipsky never ended up writing a profile, he ultimately chose to publish the vast majority of the conversation as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. The book has since been made into the movie The End of the Tour, which I had a chance to see this weekend. Rather than add to the many straightforward reviews done by people who do that better than I can, here’s what I want you to know:
The movie is really good. It’s especially good if Continue reading
Infinite Jest turns 20 in 2016, and to mark the anniversary, the book’s publisher Little, Brown is asking readers to give the book a facelift by submitting a new cover design.
Submissions will be accepted starting tomorrow and running through September 15, with the winner to be chosen by the Wallace Literary Trust (meaning they probably won’t choose your design featuring Jason Segel as Wallace). The winner will get a $1,000 American Express gift card and “the opportunity for your original cover to be used as the front cover of the 20th Anniversary edition” of the book.
Wallace himself was ambivalent about the book’s cover, according to his interviews with David Lipsky in Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:
[Closes it, looks at cover. Clouds and sky.]
This was my major complaint about the cover of the book. …Is that it looks — on American Airlines flights? The cloud system, it’s almost identical.
[On safety booklet for 757]
Oh, that’s funny. What did you want instead?
Oh, I had a number of — there’s a great photo of Fritz Lang directing Metropolis. Do you know this one? Where he’s standing there, and there are about a thousand shaven-headed men in kind of rows and phalanxes, and he’s standing there with a megaphone? It wouldn’t have been…Michael [Pietsch, Wallace’s editor at Little Brown] said it was too busy and too like conceptual, it required too much brain work on the part of the audience….
Because you were making a metaphor on the cover?
No, I just thought it was cool —
There has been some truly great artwork created to honor Infinite Jest over the years, and it should be really cool to see what people come up with for this contest.
And if you’re interested in what’s inside the cover, check out our Infinite Jest Liveblog.
This Friday, nerds and friends of nerds in the vicinity of “select theaters” will finally have to decide whether or not they are willing to go see The End of the Tour, the movie covering the days David Foster Wallace spent with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky at the close of the promotional tour for Infinite Jest. The movie has been controversial, from the casting of comedic actor Jason Segel as Wallace to the disavowal of the project from the Wallace estate. Good people (again, mostly nerds) are wrestling with the question of whether they should go see it.
Until last night, I myself was one of those people/nerds. Continue reading
Watch the first preview for “The End of the Tour,” starring Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace…
…then tell us what you think.
The story about Paul Thomas Anderson having a conversation with David Foster Wallace is making the rounds of the nerdiest parts of the internet today. The story, which was told on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, is a neat little anecdote that doesn’t add much to what we know about either artist. DFW was a nice teacher. PTA adds a little more to his literary cred, even on top of adapting Pynchon’s Inherent Vice last year. However, we the editors of Fiction Advocate found one detail to be exceptionally important: the whole thing happened at Emerson College in Boston, and we are all graduates of Emerson College in Boston.
PTA, feel free to call us anytime.
And now it’s a book. Chad Harbach’s essay from n+1 about “the two cultures of American fiction”—the MFA mill and the NYC establishment—has grown into a collection of 19 essays, including pieces by George Saunders, Emily Gould, and Elif Batuman, all of them addressing the question of how, exactly, a person becomes a writer in this day and age.
One lesson of MFA vs NYC is that writers are almost always broke. Luckily for broke writers, 9 of the book’s essays are currently available online. So if you don’t want to buy MFA vs NYC—perhaps because you’re writing a novel about Moldavian zookeepers—here is half of it for free.
“MFA vs NYC” by Chad Harbach
“A Mini-Manifesto” by George Saunders
“The Fictional Future” by David Foster Wallace
“How To Be Popular” by Melissa Flashman
“People Wear Khakis” by Lorin Stein with Astri von Arbin Ahlander
“Money (2006)” by Keith Gessen
“The Invisible Vocation” by Elif Batuman
“Dirty Little Secret” by Fredric Jameson
“Reality Publishing” by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
And some extra tidbits.
A few of these pieces were edited—shortened and/or given a different title–for the book. We’re using the titles from the book itself.
Three more essays have been published online. Thanks to Michael Bourne at The Millions for pointing them out.
“The Pyramid Scheme” by Eric Bennett
“Into the Woods” by Emily Gould
“Seduce the Whole World” by Carla Blumenkranz
– Brian Hurley
The Critical Hit Awards are back!
Emily St. John Mandel of The Millions tells us how she got her absolutely badass middle name, and why Franzen, DFW’s ex-wife, and a wrongfully murdered black teenager are the subjects of her favorite recent book reviews.
See all the winners here.
– Brian Hurley