The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"The Republic of Bad Taste" by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen 2011 Shankbone 2.JPG

First Line: "The church on Siegfeldstrasse was open to anyone who embarrassed by the Republic, and Andreas Wolf was so much of an embarrassment that he actually resided there, in the basement of the rectory, but unlike the others - the true Christian believers, the friends of the Earth, the misfits who defended human rights or didn't want to fight in World War III - he was no less an embarrassment to himself." 

Last Line: "The she ran to her friend, and the two of them walked away briskly, without looking back."

On The Mookse and the Gripes we have been discussing the quality of fiction in The New Yorker.  This is what I had to say about that as well as my thoughts on "The Republic of Bad Taste" from the June 7, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

"This thread has been fun to read.  I am a neophyte to contemporary fiction... I fell in love with 19th century literature and found that it affected my writing negatively (or so my writing group said - hmmmm....) So I am new to Franzen and Froer and Rushdie and Munro and Smith and even Carver- just read my first Carver this year. 

This has certainly made me rethink all I was taught about the short story (the rules a la Vonnegut and Poe).

If I like it - I like it.  I try to find the reasons why when I share whether or not I liked it.  Maybe there is a mathematical formula for the perfect story, like there is supposed to be in music... maybe there is a "right" way or an expectation.  Maybe there isn't. 

Art changes with time.  Chekhov?  Would The New Yorker publish him today?  Or Dickens?  Would they publish an excerpt from Virginia Woolf?  Who knows...  Do they have a "mission statement" for their fiction somewhere?  Are we privy to it? 

The New Yorker has afforded me a place to begin to explore contemporary shorter fiction.  So, for now, I am not disenchanted.  I am going along for the ride.  Give me time to become disgruntled.  I am sure it will happen...?  But do I HAVE to like art?  Or do I have to be affected by it?  Don't know yet.  Some things I like.  Some things expand me but anger me.  Some things I turn from never to return.  I like the opportunity to TALK about the stories - decide how I feel about them.  And I love to hear/read what others have to say...

As for Franzen's story: ick.  That's the first impression.  I put it down three different times before forcing myself to finish it.  It was gritty, explicit, sad, disturbing.  But folks were right - there was something compelling about it.  A story of redemption - of a nation, of a man, of a girl...  Redemption does not always mean bread or shorter lines or true felicity in freedom.   Or love.  It just means a release and a change of heart regardless of the externals. 

Did I like it?  No.  I didn't like his writing voice.  It seemed stuttered, choppy, robotic.  I didn't like the depth with which we inhabited Andreas' head.  It bothered me on a personal level even though it offered the strong contrast needed for the redemption to be believable.  It was indeed too long for my tastes, though came within the two hours or lest required by Poe's rules.  And I had a hard time following some of the identifying pronouns - like I lost a character for a second. 

Would I read it again.  Nope.  Did it make me think?  Yes.

Do I feel it belongs in this magazine?  I have no context yet only having been reading it for a few months. 

I do feel it is a cop-out to publish excerpts.  This is not a Reader's Digest Condensed Book... 

I am almost afraid to be disappointed now with Russell's story from reading the above, but we'll see.  I like to find the good where I can."

The story is enough.

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