Friday, May 27, 2005

Franzen and Moody as Writers

I've been a reader for a long time. I was a reader long before it entered my head to myself do some writing. It's as a reader, not a writer, that I define myself in relation to literature.

I can't honestly say I've found ANYTHING in the writings of Franzen and Moody that's held a moment of interest for me. I'd rate even a modest "literary" storyteller like Tom Beller ahead of them, because the pretentiousness/bullshit factor is held to a minimum. There's more honesty.

I've never gotten through the godawfully boring first chapter of Franzen's Corrections-- never got past the endless first pages of detail-disease furniture descriptions. I've read a couple of Franzen's stories, and one of his early novels. Not exactly Jack London or O. Henry in the entertainment department! Works cerebral yet at the same time voids; the cardboard characters lacking character, lacking energy, lacking substance-- more furniture; a kind of narcissistic soullessness peeking out from the heart of the narratives (the kind of narcissism which expansively fills Moody's writings).

I've sensed a technical coldness to Franzen's works. As far as I'm concerned they were written by an automaton; I'm not sure Franzen isn't a cyborg or android created in an American mad-scientist backroom-- have not glimpsed the slightest human passion from the dude, only occasional confusion, as if his circuits were disoriented.

I read The Ice Storm. It opens with more furniture description as an unfaithful husband sits in a room studying its every detail like a prisoner with nothing else to do-- the author obviously with nothing to SAY; the cataloging of details a substitute for thought, reflections of a bourgeois life; trapped within style, descriptions of furnishings, and the infantile observations of an undeveloped personality.

It's funny that as a reader I've connected way more with complex difficult works like The Idiot from another time and place. I read that book almost twenty years ago, yet still remember vividly two major characters (Myshkin and Rogozhin?) meeting at the beginning on the train. I was grabbed by their intense personalities; by their reality. I remember them a bit later in the story gazing at the portrait of a beautiful woman, at the house they're visiting. For the reader the portrait comes alive! Here's an author who realizes that literature has to LIVE and breathe-- a writer who's not beyond putting down a plot hook or two to keep the reader involved in the story.

My lack of interest in Moody's work isn't a class thing. I've enjoyed books by upper-class authors like James Gould Cozzens who present a point-of-view; a perspective and intelligence to grab onto. With Rick Moody there's style and description, but perspective or intelligence on his bland WASPy environment, beyond the babyish drool of a one-year old, is lacking. The narrator is as much a void as are his world and characters. I found more in common, more to relate to, in Dostoevsky's Ganya and his mad Slavic family; in Ganya's embarrassment and shame at his circumstances and at his own gaping character faults, both of which are inescapably attached to him like a ball and chain. Doestoevsky was a WRITER, a giant personality, a human being, not simply a smug well-trained writer-wannabe like Rick Moody.

The ULA contains writers for whom literature is not a means to an end-- to a job or banquets or a lifestyle-- is not a hobby, but the defining aspect of their lives, something they HAVE to engage in, like eating or breathing, regardless of success or failure.

I could gush for days about books I've enjoyed. With others like The Ice Storm I found nothing to love or hate, only cute-sounding words on a page-- nothing which connected with me in any way, and so about the book I can have little to say. I acknowledge that some people enjoy Franzen and Moody's works. Exactly why remains for me a mystery.


frantic said...

have you ever seen the movie zoolander? i ask because you strike me as someone who ought to be enrolled in the titular hero's charity: the zoolander school for kids who can't read good.

Noah Cicero said...

I really liked that post.

Dostoevsky loved writing.

Tim Hall said...


FWIW, I only posted my openness to certain writers because that's what it is/was, openness: something our critics never offer us in return. I wanted to say that the act of reading the words of certain writers was, for me, pleasurable--I have no idea about their lifespan or ultimate importance (though I can guess).

I want to hear more about this bookstore that set conditions on receiving ULA-style books. Eggers has a notorious blacklist and I've been sensing some of that here in NYC in my inquiries. I don't worry too much about it because I will destroy that barrier just as I have others in the past. Anybody who blocks fair trade through threat and slander is breaking a huge number of laws and I know those laws well and will make their lives hell for the fuckers responsible. But I need to know more about your experience with this. Email me and let me know, offline.


King said...

Uh, Frantic, that should be "for kids who can't read well."

frantic said...

the error is part of the joke, but then of course you are much too stupid to recognize irony.

- Leopold said...

Right, just like when bad reviews are given out on Amazon, it's because the readers are too stupid to 'get it'...that or...the ULA must be behind them!

JDF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
frantic said...

well, finchy the fool, not that anybody is actually reading the ula wankfest -- but you can be certain that if it did have a readership, more people would be laughing at the critics' jibes than would be angry at us for making them.

but go ahead, believe what you have to believe. because remember, the ula is at the center of the literary world! loserpalooza rules!

Adam Hardin said...


You seem to be the only one here who has seen Zoolander, a very low-brow movie. If you didn't waste your time with that kind of entertainment, maybe you would be able to read good.