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Farther Away by Jonathan FranzenJonathan Franzens Freedom was the runaway most-discussed novel of 2010, an ambitious and searching engagement with life in America in the twenty-first century. In The New York Times Book Review, Sam Tanenhaus proclaimed it a masterpiece of American fiction and lauded its illumination, through the steady radiance of its authors profound moral intelligence, [of] the world we thought we knew.
In Farther Away, which gathers together essays and speeches written mostly in the past five years, Franzen returns with renewed vigor to the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him. Whether recounting his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examining his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, or offering a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love, these pieces deliver on Franzens implicit promise to conceal nothing. On a trip to China to see first-hand the environmental devastation there, he doesnt omit mention of his excitement and awe at the pace of Chinas economic development; the trip becomes a journey out of his own prejudice and moral condemnation. Taken together, these essays trace the progress of unique and mature mind wrestling with itself, with literature, and with some of the most important issues of our day. Farther Away is remarkable, provocative, and necessary.
‘It began when Wallace wrote Franzen a fan letter in the summer of 1988’
English needs a word for the loneliness you feel when no one else hears what sounds to you like the loudest noise in the room. The high voice went on; its quaver was doubtless for conscious ears only, but there were verily thirty seconds when it sounded, for [Maggie], like the shriek of a soul in pain. Not one of them mentions it. What is going on? If no one else hears it, is a sound really there? One of its protagonists, Hal Incandenza, is an avatar of the young Wallace himself tennis champ, prodigious polymath, increasingly drug-dependent. He is also a version of the Danish prince, living in the family keep with his adulterous mother and uncle, emotionally frozen after the death of his father, who shows up late in the novel as a ghost.
Like a lot of writers, but even more than most, Dave loved to be in control of things.
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Wallace never wrote another novel after Infinite Jest —merely several collections of short stories and journalism, and a gathering of fragments published posthumously, earlier this year, as The Pale King —and he hanged himself in the backyard of his California home in September of Be the heroic, dies-young genius? Wallace was no saint, Franzen literally says. An unreliable friend, he could be competitive and mean—Franzen relates a story where Wallace said something very mean to a girlfriend, and another where he traced the outline of an erection on the title page of one of his books, which Franzen had brought to him to sign. Moreover, Wallace was frequently self-involved, and unable to draw joy from the world around him.