Bad Neighbors

Walter and Patty Melted were the young products of Franzen Hill — the first dreadful characters to spit out of the misanthropic novelist’s mind since the old heart of The Twenty-Seventh City had fallen on hard times two decades earlier. The Melteds hadn’t done anything to that bitter elitist hillock in Manhattan, except have the misfortune to run into it and kill themselves for ten years while the ultramontane deities renovated them. Early on, some very determined blogger torched the shit monster and did everything except beat this sad lifeless soil to a pulp so that he could drink Pabst Blue Ribbon with Howard Junker and cook up a few hot dogs with some of the boys at the raucous rooftop party that Jonathan, that sour whiny motherfucker with earplugs permanently stuck inside his hirsute ears, would never attend. “Hey, you guys, you know what?” Jonathan asked on behalf of the Melteds, “you are low-class people who will never understand my literary genius.” He saw Oprah — or was it Oona? — on a bigass tv set and wanted to destroy this pox upon pop culture that his dainty toes would never touch. The Melteds hung down their heads, wondering why they had to be attached to this utterly incurious novelist and outright wanker. Behind the Melteds you could see the glazed Galassi making book-encumbered demands of book-encumbered novelists who forgot just what lively writing was all about; ahead of him, an afternoon of George Michael on radio, Freedom, an important title for an important man who had sideswiped Gaddis, taking his title and then dissing his last two books while the great Bill G was safely packed away into his maggot feeding plot, and then “Goodnight Fuck,” then Zinfandel, not that low-class populist Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Melteds knew that Gawker reporters would be there. Jonathan knew that he was a gasbag that just couldn’t stop expanding over the itchy and queasy expanse of Franzen Hill.

In the earliest years, when you could still remember getting your fingers greasy without feeling self-conscious or ashamed of the remainder of those middling Missouri roots, the collective task at Franzen Hill was to relearn certain joys about life that everybody else seemed to experience, but that eluded the sourpuss gestalt, like how to find some moment to smile at over the course of a 72-hour period, and how to actually enjoy some sight without standing on the edge of Central Park with a stick up your ass, and how to understand that there was actually a universe that extended beyond the island of Manhattan, and how to not write needlessly long sentences with laundry list clauses and pretend that you had something significant to say. Did they print this silly shit because it shot from the soulless steam stacks atop Franzen Hill? Did they even check the manifest anymore? Who needed to? The piece — whether story or excerpt from forthcoming novel — would give phony comfort to New Yorker readers. Franzen Hill was a brand name. One as dependable as Nike, Pepsi-Cola, and Microsoft.

For all existential queries and verisimilitudinous volts, Patty Melted was a resource, a dried up construct whom Jonathan the novelist could desperately look to for the answers. A carrier of sociocultural pollen, if only the author had anything sociocultural to really draw from. She would have to remain a spent capsule, a sarcophagal bee that never talked back and stung the author, and only the author, when provoked.

Make no mistake: this was a disease, a cancer that would cause the unthinking literary acolytes to praise Franzen Hill’s physical dimensions without considering the pustules and sputum enervating the whole. Those flabby Bolanoites holed up in garrets still actually believed that they could bust shit up from the inside when they were part of the unthinking market forces. The rush of Franzen Hill would spread with the thwacks of magazines hitting doorsteps and newsstands, and continue with the reverberating dings from email clients. Endless forwarding, some printing off of the story for the subway, the sense that Franzen Hill was only the finest. Never mind what shit the story was. It appeared in The New Yorker!

The Melteds still knew that Everest towered over Franzen Hill.

“It’s a wonder,” Walter Melted remarked to Patty afterward, “that this sad and contemptuous man is even still writing.”

Patty shook her head. “I don’t think he’s figured out how to love anything.”

Be Sociable, Share!

33 Comments

  1. Thank you. It’s not just me! I thought it was a really mean-spirited story. But I kept hearing people go on and on about how wonderful and insightful and blah blah blah. I thought maybe I should reread it. But knew I couldn’t.

  2. I’m with you. Also it felt like it was too self-consciously trying to be Richard Yates-esque.

  3. Was this even a short story?

    I read it as an excerpt from his next novel. If it was actually meant to be a story on its own, it’s disappointing. Or I’m completely missing the point of its conventionalism.

  4. The story is about my city. Fictional people in my county. I do not like it, Mr. Franzen. I do not like it one bit.

  5. In its malicious spirit, I find it to be the precise opposite of the work of, say, Flannery O’Connor, who could populate a story entirely with unappealing and reprehensible characters who are unappealing and reprehensible in completely different ways, yet resonate against one another to make the story work perfectly. Who or what in “Good Neighbors” is essential, isn’t gilding the lily? Which of the characters is necessary? It’s an almost entirely unliterary work, consisting of facile prose, complete (if misplaced) confidence in the values of his audience (to whom he panders), and a cataloging of things — occupations, institutions, products, pursuits, hobbies, clothes, etc. — that are intended to do all the heavy lifting that comes with creating character and voice, neither of which, if you give the story even a cursory read, are present — i.e., do we know who Walter is? No, we think we know what sort of guy would work for the Nature Conservancy. Do we know who Carol is? Well, we’ve seen someone who’s kind of like that hanging around on Court Street, so sure, we know the “type.” I mean, I have no trouble with grotesques or with caricature, but in instance in which those things are deployed exclusively as a matter of fictional technique, I require an overarching form, a suggestion that something’s at stake, there’s something to be lost. What does Franzen give us?

  6. It’s not exactly the sort of thing I enjoy reading (or, to put it this way: would pay to read), but I really can’t see what all the whining is about.

    Yes, the characters are a grating bunch, but they are well-observed, I’m afraid… I have spent time (whilst visiting The States: once every 5 years, roughly) with just such people on their decks or in their gazebos, eating seafood salad (it’s always delicious; much better than the stuff that keeps me svelte in Berlin) and listening to their harmless, nostalgia-and- kitsch-undermined record collections and the overheard chatter of their weirdly self-assured (not yet fat or tattooed) children and drifting in and out of conversations with various toothy moms about their placebo activism etc.

    These people are all very nice, hug-prone, earnestly helpful, truly lost and impossible to bear for more than a few hours every five years… and there are *tons* of them. Isn’t NPR their CNN? Lileks their Proust? Didn’t they buy most of the tickets for the Police reunion? Why *not* write about them? Edith Wharton did.

    Also: reality check: the writing is *slightly* more accomplished (while being, again, not really my thing at all) than any of you seem willing to admit; it’s only a few IQ-degrees removed from late-phase DFW, in fact. Ed: be honest: do you think your parody is *stronger*, stylistically, than the target?

    Trashing Franzen is obvious and corny and easy, IMO; who has the balls to trash some of the time-stealing, silly-assed, imagination-depleting (corporate-coffers-swelling) TV shows that have the hipsters slickly hypnotized? It would be (wo)manlier than these Fish-in-a-Barrel Olympics to do so, dudes and dudesses. It would.

  7. Steven, isn’t it possible they’re well-observed only on the most superficial of levels? What you see every five years at someone’s garden party is all well and good, but that sort of reportage invades the pages of New York Magazine every week — is it really “literature,” or at least literature as defined by the terms Franzen himself has set forth in his divers manifestoes on the subject? Wharton may have written about them, but she didn’t write about them like *this.* And I know we’ve been hearing and hearing about Cheever lately, but certainly Cheever’s lacerations of the smooth surface of the nice were more incisive — these are machete hacks. Who or what is being satirized here? Everything? The men, the women, the workers, the stay-at-homes, the politically correct, the politically incorrect, the information class, the working class, the architecturally precious, the architecturally vulgar, the virtuous and the venal? To what in the world is this “everything” analogously linked? To everything that we, including you, flatter ourselves that we are not.

  8. “Steven, isn’t it possible they’re well-observed only on the most superficial of levels?”

    -Contradiction?

    “What you see every five years at someone’s garden party is all well and good, but that sort of reportage invades the pages of New York Magazine every week — is it really “literature,”…”

    -“Literature” is a nicely inclusive and forgiving term, Andy; it even manages to encompass stuff you (and I) don’t like. (And: I may hit the garden parties every 5 years, but I’ve known the party-givers/goers since college.)

    “Wharton may have written about them, but she didn’t write about them like *this.*”

    -Two different writers; we’d expect them to differ.

    “And I know we’ve been hearing and hearing about Cheever lately, but certainly Cheever’s lacerations of the smooth surface of the nice were more incisive — these are machete hacks. Who or what is being satirized here?”

    -Don’t set a personal goal for a piece of writing that you yourself didn’t write, then complain that this goal wasn’t met. That’s the easiest, and most common, attack platform on the Liternet (and in print hatchet-hackery).

    “Everything? The men, the women, the workers, the stay-at-homes, the politically correct, the politically incorrect, the information class, the working class, the architecturally precious, the architecturally vulgar, the virtuous and the venal? To what in the world is this “everything” analogously linked?”

    -You bring in this “everything”, then mock it in scare quotes (see preceding point). See the problem?

    “To everything that we, including you, flatter ourselves that we are not.”

    -Sounds good as a wrap-up riff but unless you actually *know* everything that “we” are, it’s not only irrelevant as a fragment of LitCrit but just as presumptuous (as sociology) as you seem to think Franzen is being in daring to write this story. You’re only qualified to speak of yourself (and the people you know) in this way… speaking of which: isn’t it possible that Franzen struck a nerve?

    “It’s a wonder,” Walter Melted remarked to Patty afterward, “that this sad and contemptuous man is even still writing.”

    Srsly. Why the fury?

  9. -Contradiction?

    No, not really. You don’t have to get into characters in Jamesian depth to observe them well. But surface is all, here, a surface tricked out with elaborately empty details that might give John O’Hara pause.

    -”Literature” is a nicely inclusive and forgiving term, Andy; it even manages to encompass stuff you (and I) don’t like. (And: I may hit the garden parties every 5 years, but I’ve known the party-givers/goers since college.)

    Franzen has been quite specific, even dogmatic, in his remarks on the subject of “literature,” in which he has expressed ambitions that clearly go beyond what might be expected of pop sociology and New York Magazine. Here’s just one of them: “…most works of serious literature share certain things: a belief in the individual; a ‘pessimistic’ conviction that world (or history, or fate, or God) will be forever smarter than the people in it; a commitment to mediating between the author’s subjectivity and the world in which she finds herself by subjecting that subjectivity to the rigors of conventional form and permanent language; and the whole battery of stuff like honesty and responsibility and love and significance that constitutes ‘humane values’…If you believe in these humane values it’s possible to continue believing in literary fiction as, if nothing else, a vessel for preserving them…”

    To me, it’s evident that the only relevant thing “smarter than the people in” the world of “Good Neighbors” is Jonathan Franzen and the readers who he flatters by presenting them with a caricature of bourgeois values in which no one could possibly recognize themselves. But more crucially, perhaps, is that rote line about “stuff” like honesty, responsibility, love — humane values. What of that is present here? These aren’t necessarily my standards, it’s not a question of whether this is “literature” I like, it’s a question of whether it’s “literature” as rather piously defined by Jonathan Franzen.

    -Two different writers; we’d expect them to differ.

    Of course we would, but that’s clearly not what I meant.

    -Don’t set a personal goal for a piece of writing that you yourself didn’t write, then complain that this goal wasn’t met. That’s the easiest, and most common, attack platform on the Liternet (and in print hatchet-hackery).

    There’s nothing personal about mentioning a writer who handled the same sort of milieu and its pretensions, fears, anxieties, failings, failures, triumphs, and grace more deftly, more imaginatively, and more comprehensively than Franzen does. Setting a goal and invoking a standard are two entirely different things. I’m certain that Franzen attained his goal, my implication is that the goal is an unworthy one.

    -You bring in this “everything”, then mock it in scare quotes (see preceding point). See the problem?

    No, it’s Franzen’s “everything.” There’s absolutely nothing in the story that Franzen seems to think has the slightest worth. There isn’t any ambiguity. I wouldn’t like the story in any event, but I like it even less when the author takes to the pulpit, sometimes in the same pages, to shake his finger in my face and tell me that fiction is “a vessel for preserving humane values.”

    -Sounds good as a wrap-up riff but unless you actually *know* everything that “we” are, it’s not only irrelevant as a fragment of LitCrit but just as presumptuous (as sociology) as you seem to think Franzen is being in daring to write this story. You’re only qualified to speak of yourself (and the people you know) in this way… speaking of which: isn’t it possible that Franzen struck a nerve?

    Well, it sounds good as a wrap-up riff, because it is good as a wrap-up riff. My presumptuousness may derive, a little, from your condescending dismissal of your old college buds, their “harmless” music, their “placebo” activism, their gazebos and seafood salad, the “toothy” moms and their “weirdly self-assured” children. I take it that you’re somehow in but not of this group, but also that, despite seeing them twice each decade, you’re absolutely dead-on in your evaluation of them. Jeez, Steven. With friends like you sitting on the gazebo eating seafood salad, one doesn’t need enemies sitting on the gazebo eating seafood salad. But you’re missing the point, again, I think. I asked to what in our world the everything in Franzen’s world is linked; my answer was that it was linked only to the spotless conscience we can admire when we compare ourselves to these odious caricatures Franzen has set in motion, who have no counterparts on Planet Earth. What “nerve” might it have struck? I found it to be an unpleasant story, but there’s nothing here to make anyone uncomfortable. That’s the whole point of the story.

    “It’s a wonder,” Walter Melted remarked to Patty afterward, “that this sad and contemptuous man is even still writing.”

    Srsly. Why the fury?

    Well, you’ll have to ask Ed why he’s furious. I’m not furious. I just think it’s a contemptible piece of work.

  10. Andy:

    I won’t keep cranking the rebuttal wheel on the points raised above; I’ll just get to this one and then post a proposal:

    “I take it that you’re somehow in but not of this group, but also that, despite seeing them twice each decade, you’re absolutely dead-on in your evaluation of them.”

    I went to college with these people but share almost nothing of their background(s) or life-paths; I am still friends with some of them (and some of them are exes)… a spy in the house that Martha Stewart built? Laugh.

    My circle of friends and acquaintances probably represents the most jarring melange/overlap of disparate subcultures imaginable (as a professional composer I often hang out with teenage musicians, as a writer/Artist I hang out with middle-aged and “foreign” academics, as a racial mutt I’m close to “blacks”, “whites”, “Asians”, whatever…).

    The proposal:

    If online literary discourse is ever to transcend the zero-sum of a bizillion passionate consumers planting their flags (eg, the ground-breaking “The Beatles Suck” chat room declaration), we’re going to have to get to the level where we can *appreciate* literary artifacts (or their creators) that we don’t necessarily like. Big step.

    I’ve had people react to that suggestion with a “Wtf?” as though the concept is an oxymoron. It isn’t! It’s a form of critical maturity that expands the practice to allow for the otherwise baffling paradox that a dozen equally-intelligent readers can all be “right” while enjoying mutually antithetical tastes.

    Easy example: I just *can’t* get into Tom Wolfe’s novels. They’re as much my cup of tea as movies directed by Wolfgang Peterson are. But for me to claim that Wolfe “can’t write” would be ridiculous. The man knows how to write… I’ve read individual passages of his that were worthy of genuine admiration (and there are plenty of intelligent readers who cherish the novels). Ditto Franzen. Why is something like that so hard to admit? It shouldn’t be.

  11. PS “Jeez, Steven. With friends like you sitting on the gazebo eating seafood salad, one doesn’t need enemies sitting on the gazebo eating seafood salad.”

    Since when is the Truth 100% nice? “Nice” is for kindergarten.

  12. “…we’re going to have to get to the level where we can *appreciate* literary artifacts (or their creators) that we don’t necessarily like. Big step.”

    It’s a “big step” that I took long ago. Having taken it doesn’t require me to appreciate literary artifacts that fall short in my opinion. This one does. I think it’s a bad story. As for Franzen, I have absolutely no opinion about him personally.

    “It’s a form of critical maturity that expands the practice to allow for the otherwise baffling paradox that a dozen equally-intelligent readers can all be ‘right’ while enjoying mutually antithetical tastes.”

    Dude, I didn’t say you were “wrong.” I raised issues I had with the story, questioned its relationship to positions Franzen has taken publicly on literature, compared him to another author, and suggested that satire really needs to draw blood from an object in the world being satirized, not from humanoid figurines whose function is to enable us to feel smug about ourselves. None of these are critically immature strategies.

    “Since when is the Truth 100% nice? ‘Nice’ is for kindergarten.”

    I’d be more prepared to celebrate your intrepid honesty if you turned up at the gazebo one night and enumerated aloud all the ways in which the enthusiasms, tastes, values, and “life paths” of your hosts and fellow guests are patently inferior to your own. Of course, since it’s the truth — I mean, the Truth — they probably already know that, and want you around so they can bask in your aura.

  13. Let’s not be literal-minded, Andy (do you really think it was “seafood salad”? Or a “gazebo”?). Also: don’t take it personally, okay? I don’t.

    Anyway: how broadly are you defining “satire” here? Is this short story meant to have more “satire” to it than something by Carver, say? Or, again, a short story by DFW? What if it’s a cluster of insights/observations which lead to a payoff the point of which is not to make us gasp, or laugh, or sigh, but merely to tie the observations into a neat little point?

  14. Andy and Steven: Guys, let’s try and keep this conversation civil, kindergarten or not. It’s clear that both of you are fighting over subjective viewpoints.

    To answer Steven’s question, keep in mind that this piece IS a construct. And I couldn’t possibly care about whether you think it’s better or worse than Franzen. Tear it up. Condemn it. Praise it. Be my guest. I don’t care. My intentions are my own and you’ll never know. Inquiries along these line exist to badger me and no matter WHICH way I answer (and no I won’t tell you), I’ll be forced into a narcissistic terrain that isn’t in my character and that isn’t germane to this discussion at all. It’s all a bit silly and embarrassing.

    There is, however, a clue contained within about what I’m doing. But most folks will have to wait until later in the year to understand, assuming they get the clue and the obscure connection and that they simultaneously understand what the basis of THAT connection is. Does that clear things up for you? 🙂

  15. “I just think it’s a contemptible piece of work.”

    I don’t see how you (or Ed) have made a compelling case for the story (as opposed to J Franzen, for some personal reason) being “contemptible”. That’s a fairly extraordinary damnation. I haven’t seen the proportionately extraordinary argument yet.

  16. “Let’s not be literal-minded, Andy (do you really think it was “seafood salad”? Or a “gazebo”?). Also: don’t take it personally, okay? I don’t.”

    Your riposte that my taking you at your (written) word marks a defect of intellection is too subtle for me, I guess. And I don’t take it personally. I just think it’s too bad that you don’t like your friends.

    “Anyway: how broadly are you defining “satire” here? Is this short story meant to have more “satire” to it than something by Carver, say? Or, again, a short story by DFW? What if it’s a cluster of insights/observations which lead to a payoff the point of which is not to make us gasp, or laugh, or sigh, but merely to tie the observations into a neat little point?”

    Well, now, this is just getting silly. If it’s a satire, I think it fails within the terms I outlined above. If it’s not a satire, then I think it fails on several levels: style, character, voice, plot, theme (unless “contempt for mankind” is a theme, which I’ll grant it is for, say, Celine or Bernhard, who make up for it with — you guessed it — style, character, voice, etc.), etc. I thought I’d made my feelings clear. And what if it is just that? Well, great. It’s a highly professional sketch containing reportage on the level of that which invades the pages of New York Magazine. The neat little point of which gratifies you, I gather, but leaves me cold.

    “’I just think it’s a contemptible piece of work.’
    …That’s a fairly extraordinary damnation. I haven’t seen the proportionately extraordinary argument yet.”

    Do I need an argument more extraordinary than that of Franzen’s own evident contemptuousness?

  17. I think what you need, Andy, is a little more distance… and a smaller chip on that shoulder. I think you also need to question that default American need for writers/stories to be personable/uplifting/nice. A sense of humor/irony would help.

  18. Good of you to draw inferences, unsupported by any of my comments, about what I require of fiction. Yes, that nice, personable Flannery O’Connor. That nice, uplifting John Cheever.

    I’m not sure what I need to keep my distance from, Steven. You? Fiction? The way I read? I mean, you tipped your hypothesis earlier — I hate the story, ergo I recognize myself among the story’s targets — but that, too, is unsupported by my comments. I can assure you that I’ve felt the chill of self-recognition in the pages of fiction before, and my response isn’t revulsion directed at the fiction. There’s a difference between having one’s pieties and airs picked off by a merciless sniper and being caught in the lunchroom when a teen mass killer starts firing a scatter gun. Franzen’s just another undiscriminating “disgruntled loner,” except equipped with a mandarin vocabulary.

    But I don’t think that’s Franzen’s “offense.” I think, as I’ve tried to make clear, that what is bothersome about this story is that Franzen has fabricated it so that it points its finger everywhere except at us. It points at, you know, *them,* which to me indicates one of two alternatives: first, and most likely, that Franzen is well aware of his audience and tailors his work expertly to accommodate its sensibilities, which may be a testament to his craft but condemns the work as art; or, second, that Franzen actually sees *everybody* as no more than the sum of their Volvo-driving, Nature Conservancy-supporting, inner-city-gentrifying — i.e., liberal consumer — ways, which is no more and no less than a failure of the imagination. To parrot back at “us” what “we” “know” about our own class — about the idiocy of its assumptions, the dumb seductiveness of its ad copy, the impurity of its goodness, it marginal superiority over the patently dumb (“Blake”) — by presenting us with caricatured exponents of that class isn’t the stuff of art, it’s the stuff of redundant and self-important propaganda.

  19. (Sorry about the absence; we were putting our daughter to bed)…

    Andy, my points are: A) how do you get “contemptible” out of the argument you present, when all your evidence does is point to a (by your system) failed story? I wonder if there’s an extra-literary cinder in your critical eye on this… which leads to B), my feeling that your basic reading of the author’s intent is by no means open-and-shut. I read it less as a “satire” than as a sort of low-temp tragedy. I see the jokes in the thing, but I detect compassion, too. Not that compassion in a story is necessary (depends on the story), but if you’re indicting Franzen for a lack thereof, I think you’re missing something.

    I’m not here to defend Franzen, or this particular story… I’m just curious about the violence of the pile-on here.

    “I think, as I’ve tried to make clear, that what is bothersome about this story is that Franzen has fabricated it so that it points its finger everywhere except at us.”

    In a way, I think the same of this anti-Franzen hysteria.

  20. In fact, having been compelled by this argument to look “Good Neighbors” over more than once, I’m beginning to admire it a bit more… precisely as a kind of Hardy-esque tragedy. Hamartia? Check. Inevitability (and symmetry) of the tragic characters’ downfall? Check.

    And bringing Flannery into this argument while seeing fit to pillory Franzen for using one of O’Connor’s signal methods for heightening the garish beauty of some fool’s downfall seriously undermines the logic of your outrage. You think any of Flannery O’Connor’s doomed-to-a-comeuppance characters (the fancypants college shits or the harpy-hausfrauen or the hapless freaks) are not painted with blinking targets from the beginning? You want to lambast Franzen for animating some post-Yuppie foibles for us… while turning a blind eye to St. Flannery’s picaresque racism? (Not that I give a damn about the latter)

    Inconsistent, Andy. And highly suspicious.

    (At least you’ve forgotten about the seafood salad…)

  21. –(Sorry about the absence; we were putting our daughter to bed)…

    Ach, and one of mine’s just waking up…

    –Andy, my points are: A) how do you get “contemptible” out of the argument you present when all your evidence does is point to a (by your system) failed story? I wonder if there’s an extra-literary cinder in your critical eye on this…

    Well, it’s not a system, for one thing, it’s a set of pretty flexible and wide-ranging criteria. I think shooting fish in a barrel is contemptible, particularly when you’ve taken pains to exclude any fish who might escape your aim. I just do. It may not be a persuasive argument, but I suppose it’s not ordinarily one I feel constrained to make, because I find the work of Jonathan Franzen generally to be beside the point, and Franzen does a really good job of impugning himself whenever the opportunity presents. If it isn’t satire (and I hold that it is) then, OK, it’s not contemptible, it’s merely bad.

    –which leads to B), my feeling that your basic reading of the author’s intent is by no means open-and-shut. I read it less as a “satire” than as a sort of low-temp tragedy. I see the jokes in the thing, but I detect compassion, too. Not that compassion in a story is necessary (depends on the story), but if you’re indicting Franzen for a lack thereof, I think you’re missing something.

    I may be missing the compassion, but one thorough go-through and another cursory one were enough for me, really. But I don’t think a lack of compassion is the principal flaw of the story. I think it’s a certain relentless doo-hickeyism: Grab-bag characters, big, slow-moving targets, a flabby premise that unfolds sloppily, like an inflatable raft. I don’t know if this sort of contrivance really rates as tragedy at any temperature.

    –I’m not here to defend Franzen, or this particular story… I’m just curious about the violence of the pile-on here.

    Can’t speak for the others in the pile. Me, I don’t like the story, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I think I’ve justified my dislike to an acceptable extent, even if you do disagree. I don’t *think* there’s anything extraliterary influencing me. I’m not even a Franzen-hater — really! I think that a lot of what he does here he does to much better effect — because of a larger and balancing context — in The Corrections.

    –“I think, as I’ve tried to make clear, that what is bothersome about this story is that Franzen has fabricated it so that it points its finger everywhere except at us.” In a way, I think the same of this anti-Franzen hysteria.

    I don’t think I’ve been hysterical, or anti-Franzen. And I’m not really sure what you mean. I haven’t authored a series of blog comments about a boogeyman so that we can all feel reassured that we have nothing in common with that boogeyman, I’m scrutinizing a published short story by a writer who is, rightly or wrongly, regarded as one of the pre-eminent authors of his generation. It’s become a canard that, on the web, some writers (name the dozen of your choice) get unfairly beat up on, and while I’d agree that it would be better if the scope of the beating-up were enlarged I do think it’s a good thing that Great Writers A, B, and C are publicly taken to task in a manner that I doubt would ever see the light of day in print. I’m not a big fan of take-down culture, don’t value that sweeping “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation” crap, and certainly I’m not a theorist of the Creeping Conspiracy, like King Wenclas. But I also believe that it’s neither unreasonable nor “extraliterary” to question whether someone other than a Jonathan Franzen could so prominently publish a short story of this caliber — a question, to be sure, that I could ask regarding a lot of the stories published in the New Yorker. The object isn’t an envy-driven piling on, the object is (in part) to query the unexamined status, methods, ends, and appeal of Jonathan Franzen as a brand name.

  22. “Inconsistent, Andy. And highly suspicious.”

    No, not really. Re-read “Good Country People” and then “Good Neighbors” and if you see more similarity than difference in *any* respect than I really can’t help you.

  23. Steven Augustine is quickly becoming one of the best known trolls on the Internet. Congrats, Steve, that is actually quite an accomplishment. I can’t wait for your droll response. I’m sure it will be one of your best.

  24. CTR:

    Gee, how can I respond now that you’ve preempted any response so effectively with this childish chatroom tactic? (In lieu of anything as difficult to generate as an articulate literary opinion, of course). But wait: you mean they’re LOLers out there who don’t LOVE me… ?

    I weep.

  25. I stumbled upon this web site while searching for reviews and analysis of “Good Neighbors.” Though the original blog post didn’t do much for me, I found debate in the comments really fascinating.

    I think Steven Augustine made some really brilliant points and was the clear winner of the argument. It saddens me that some people seemed to want to shut down the discussion, while others called Steven a “troll.” I guess you must face that kind of wrath when you dare to take on the echo chamber mentality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *