Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, was released last week, preceded by both a tidal wave of unconditional critical praise and a mini-controversy over the book's fulsome reception. Now that some of the initial rapture has faded, some of the raver reviews — like Guardian writer Jonathan Jones' declaration that Freedom is the "the novel of the century" — are being alternately challenged and defended: (Watch Franzen discuss his new book)
This book is undeniably exceptional: The storm over the adulation leveled at Franzen is "misdirected," says Laura Moser at Slate's Double X blog. The truth is, Freedom is a "nearly perfect novel" — exceptional even by Franzen's "virtuoso standards." Writers who took issue with the critical reception should "be jealous of Franzen's talent, not his press coverage."
"Don't blame Jonathan Franzen for New York Times sexism"
Unless you enjoy likeable characters: The "literary cognoscenti" has made its mind up, says Yvonne Zip at the Christian Science Monitor, but I'm not convinced. Despite the "brilliant writing and caustic wit" on display, Franzen's characteristic "contempt" for his characters undermines his artistic achievement. Readers who hope to identify with a novel's protagonists should steer clear: "The pages are coated with a film of disdain so thick it almost comes off on your hands."
Ignore the critics and haters — just read the book: The fuss over Freedom's reception is in danger of overwhelming the novel itself, says David L. Ulin at the Los Angeles Times. This storm in a teacup "reveals a fundamental immaturity in our collective thinking" — that we are more content to judge the author than the work. Put down the reviews, and pick up the book.
"With Jonathan Franzen, judge the novel and not the man"