Keith MacKenzie 26 letters. A million and more words. No limit to stories.

Why Jonathan Franzen sounds kind of like an asshole

Jonathan Franzen. Photograph: Chris Buck for the Guardian

Just came across a very frank and personal article penned by Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections fame. In it, he tackles the four most common – and most inane, from his point of view – questions he has been asked by interviewers frothing at the chance to have a face-to-face with one of the writing industry’s hottest commodities.

Franzen answers all four questions honestly and not bluntly – not that he takes the engineer’s approach and answers with a single sentence. Instead, with great swaths of the pen (or typewriter, or computer, or whatever he writes with), he demonizes the offerer of the question with the precision of a surgeon and the thoroughness of someone who really doesn’t know when to stop.

Although I found his article an interesting read, particularly from a writer’s perspective, I did find it verging on snobbery and smugness. If he were in a pub and someone just asked him when he liked to write, and he answered with this sort of rambling diarrhea, he wouldn’t make many friends.

Reason? He seems like a self-absorbed, pretentious asshole with too many problems on his plate and without the introspective clarity to realize that he, himself, may be the reason for his problems.

If he tried the same stunt in a cafe while slurping noisily at his soy latte, he would make many friends. Kind of.

Reason? He seems like a vague, rambling hipster who thinks if you get what he’s saying, then you don’t get it at all. And hipsters will dig that shit with a bulldozer if they could. They’d flock to him like flies to a puddle of vomit.

Mr. Franzen, you’re an awesome writer, but come on. When you were unpublished, penniless and stuck in a mortgage and unhappy marriage, and doors slammed in your face with soul-cutting laughter on the other side, you had to be interested in the daily habits of other writers out there.

I know I am interested. I’d love to know where Vonnegut got his ideas from, and when and where Hemingway was when he pounded out his masterpieces. I’d be fascinated to know how much of his work Kundera based on his own life experiences and what books Martin Amis liked to read in his spare time. Those aren’t difficult questions to answer, so why make it difficult? You’re a writer and you have many fans who’d love to learn more about your approach to the craft. We’re just curious, for Pete’s sake.

Instead, you chose to go the abstract route and make it complicated, pretentious and condescending. I know you’re tired of bullshit and tired of being asked the same questions over and over and over again, but guess what, Mr. Franzen? You’re a fucking celebrity. You’re famous now. It comes with the territory. There’s a reason people ask you these questions – they’re asking on behalf of your millions of fans.

They don’t want to hear an angry hipster on a soapbox in Williamsburg. It just sounds a little ungrateful, to tell you the truth. So, for your sake and for the sake of the rest of us, get off.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Keith MacKenzie


Four books in the fire. Dozens of short stories fluttering about. Mission: To get the word out.

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