June 27, 2018

Jonathan Franzen is profiled in the New York Times, internet responds accordingly


Power Player Jonathan Franzen. Via WikiMedia Commons.

Did you hear? Did you see? The New York Times Magazine ran a profile of Jonathan Franzen written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner! Just yesterday!

The piece was presumably conceived as a sort of retrospective on the National Book Award-winning Jeopardy contestant’s career, anticipating the serialization of Franzen’s 2015 novel Purity, which was to be adapted by Showtime in a production starring Daniel Craig.

Sadly, production on that show has been halted, and, in a hilarious twist of fate, Brodesser-Akner was given front row tickets to a beautiful moment, in which Franzen is notified of the cancellation by the project’s prospective director, Todd Field, and then immediately afterwards by Daniel Craig.

The phone rang again, and again he stood up to take the call. It was Daniel Craig, who had been tentatively cast to star in the show. He was being summoned to do another James Bond movie and couldn’t wait for “Purity.” But, he told Franzen, the entire experience had been extraordinary. He was very sad this wasn’t going to work out. They’d tried, hadn’t they?

Franzen sat down and blinked a few times.


Of course, the absolute best things about any appearance of Jonathan Franzen in the news are the tweets. Here are some good tweets about Jonathan Franzen’s profile in The New York Times:

There are indeed more important things happening than this, but it is absolutely bizarre that Jonathan Franzen thinks that the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where the median price of a one-bedroom apartment is almost $3,000 a month, qualifies as middle-class. It is also odd that Brodesser-Akner opens the profile by insisting that Santa Cruz, where Franzen lives, is a totally normal, humble metropolitan area, and not a coastal refuge for the wealthy, where the average price of a home is almost a million dollars, nearly double what it was in 2012.

Moving on. This is another tweet, arguably better than the first:

It speaks for itself.

One more tweet:

Good question. Moving on.

On the whole, the piece is warmly sympathetic towards Franzen, and Brodesser-Akner has a real knack for evoking the gently confused, overwrought earnestness that defines the Franzenomenon: The silliness of his odd verbal relationship to a new car (“Outside, in front of his home, sits a Toyota Camry hybrid. ‘Camry is a good car,’ he said.”); an endearingly doofy moment when he comes to the realization that he has road rage (“And I thought, I don’t have road rage. I get pissed off a little bit. I answered, I don’t know, yes to seven of the questions, and so I saw, oh, clearly I have road rage.”); the fact that he refers to his agent, Susan Golomb, as the “tawny lioness of publishing.” These are moments that make you say, “Geez, this Franzen guy is just a guy, you know? A weird guy, maybe, but just a basically nice guy, trying to write books.”

At other points, the profile goes completely off the rails. Read this:

He had more to say about seabirds. He had more to say about every topic we discussed. But here’s the thing: When he speaks, he enunciates down to the soul of every single letter. He takes this lingual habit and out of his mouth he erects complete cities — rigorously formed ones, with firehouses and railroad stations and schools and coffee joints and community centers. He makes no points that are complete at the usual magazine-article quotable size. He makes no points that can be distilled to a few words and still be understood in their breadth. The breadth is the point.

Which is an astonishing thing to say about a person who wrote this, but whatever.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.