Over the weekend, I was doing some online-literary-journal browsing, just some catching up, trying to see what’s going on in that world. The most interesting thing I found was an interview between Booth‘s Susan Lerner and Jonathan Franzen. In the interview’s introduction, Lerner calls Franzen “arguably the best living American novelist” — I’m never quite sure how we go about making and justifying these claims — but she was also quite clear that during Franzen’s visit to Indianapolis, he had been kind, present, and pleasant. If such a disclaimer seems defensive, you can forgive her because Franzen has such a tendency to make headlines in all the wrong ways. As the story goes, several years ago, he even pissed Oprah off.
In wrestling with Philip Roth’s 1998, Pulitzer-prize winning novel, American Pastoral, it is useful to remember that the book’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, offered a kind of disclaimer to his story: “The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.”