Jonathan Franzen's short story, "Agreeable," in the May 31 New Yorker magazine is yet another example of the plight of the literary story. His story is competently made and written, revealing that Franzen is a step above the "20 Under 40" crowd. Competence, though, is all it has. The story takes no risks whatsoever, neither artistically, nor with the narrowly wrought New Yorker readership. Nowhere is there to be found a new idea or a new approach. The story's outcome is predictable. The tale, about the rape of a female high school athlete, is understated. To say it's understated is an understatement. Franzen represses the emotion, represses the anger, represses the outrage. We're left with a collection of WASPy pods phlegmatically exhibiting flaws in their societal milieu circa 1975.
Here's where we come to what the Franzen story is really about. It's politically correct. That's all we can say about it. What else?
The story presents an acceptable moral-- rape is bad; equality is good-- which of itself isn't art. The competent, dispassionate way Franzen treats the subject ensures it's not art. The genteel audience's beliefs are confirmed. Sexism is bad. Patriarchy is bad. Our society used to be flawed. But we're not.
And so with this story Jonathan Franzen is an American Sholokhov, writing what the Overdogs of Literature want, presenting a reliably correct story reliably in synch with the standards of the status quo.