Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage by Philip Weinstein



A high brow book report…  **

In the introduction to this book, Weinstein writes, “persons attempting to find in my book a standard biography of Jonathan Franzen will be … disappointed.”  This would not be an issue had the description in Amazon started with this line.  Instead, it said, “Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage is the first critical biography of one of today’s most important novelists.”  Unfortunately, Weinstein’s warning was accurate.

This is not a biography of Jonathan Franzen. If readers know anything about Franzen, then they know more than this book will reveal. The Comedy of Rage is simply a book report.  Weinstein writes about the books and stories Franzen has written and gives a detailed critique of each.  Any reference to Franzen’s life is only an attempt to tie the writing to the man, as any novelist knows, a writers work may have a reflection of one’s life but iis not a one to one correlation.

The analysis of the characters in each of Franzen’s novels is somewhat interesting, but why not just read the novels for yourself?  Weinstein writes as if this is a paper being presented to a gathering of English professors and he needs to impress them with his grasp of language. Franzen’s novels are complex, challenging, and literary. A book report does not need to be.

The other warning that should have come with this book is that it is full of spoilers.  If a reader has not read Franzen, especially his newest – Purity, Weinstein reveals way too many plot points that will spoil the enjoyment of discovery.

My advice would be to pass on this book, unless you have read all of Franzen’s work. But if you have, then there is no need to read this unless you need fodder for a book report of your own.

This one gets two stars.



Purity by Jonathan Franzen



When is a book about a character but isn’t……   ****


Having been to a book signing where Jonathan Franzen spoke and read excerpts from Purity, I had great expectations for his novel.

This was my first chance to read one of his books, and I look forward to reading Corrections and Freedom. Needless to say, I am now a fan.

Based on the title, one would think this is Purity Tyler’s story, but she is almost a minor player.  The main parts of the book are more about the people around Purity, nicknamed Pip, and their lives before meeting her. Franzen takes us back in time, several times, to give us different viewpoints on how events led to the current situation in which Purity finds herself.

A thread that holds the story together concerns each of the characters’ relationships with their parents, more to the mother than the father, except for one character. Another is how sex affects their own relationships with the people around them.

The narration is long and although at times boring, Franzen kept me turning pages with his excellent writing, to see where the story would lead. About the time I was ready to say “come on already”, the story would either twist, or Franzen would have another character reveal their side of the story.

There are no characters to like in this book, yet their stories are compelling and because of  the depth with which Franzen deals with each one, I had a good understanding of why they are who they are. This stands as a beacon for novels about unlikable characters.

This is a novel that takes time to read and digest, and unlike the title, is not for the pure at heart.

I give this one four stars.