Deconstructing Franzen

Anyone else find themselves groping about in JF's memoir/essay "The Retreat" in this week's New Yorker? At Large Vibrating Egg, guest blogger "Mr. Gnossos Pappadopoulis" brutally eviscerates it in a four-part close textual analysis (scroll down for links to all four parts).


Grendel said...
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the plunge said...

Finally got to the Franzen essay. This greek guy Papadopoulous (sp) is pretty much right on. The essay is about how J-Franz (as the greek dubs him) became super-popular in high school--at least, among his chuch group peers. It's a pretty transparent attempt by Franzen to make over the psychic dork scars he suffered in youth, and a wholly un-moving one at that.

You know how you're supposed to suspend disbelief when you read memoir? I just couldn't do it for this one--he would have us believe that he remembers this bland episode from 35 years ago in near-eidetic detail. There's a line in there about how, after a church group meeting, "We emerged, blinking in the powerful morning sun" (or something, I don't have the mag here). And another one about the way this one girl stood (this is the greek's point): "Yanczer was a small, round-faced girl who tended to talk over hershoulder, leaning away from you, as if you'd temporarily changed hermind about leaving." And the greek makes another convincing point, illustrated in this passage that shows Franzen's self-contradictingly strong memory of the weed of the day. Says Franzen:

"Missouris choolyard pot in 1973 was a weak, seedy product, and users had to take so many hits that they came inside reeking of smoke the way the physical-science room reeked once a year, after the Distillation of Wood. But I was not a worldly fourteen-year-old. I didn't even know what to call the stuff that kids were smoking."

I think Franzen just baldly made most of this stuff up. I know a lot of people with good memories, but most of them don't extend to the kind of highly specific and convenient minutiae we have here. (This story takes place over like 3 days in 1973, and he tells it in short-story-like detail).

Anyway, I liked the one he read in Shambaugh better.