There is no way to discuss this without sounding like I’ve lost my mind, but discuss it I must. It is that I have a new imaginary friend and his name is Jonathan Franzen. Not Jon, not Jonny, not Franz, or Franzen. It’s Jonathan Franzen and he’s always referred to with his first and last name.
It started innocently enough. I’ve been reading Freedom for like a fortnight. It’s a big, difficult novel from hell. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve given myself over to a really big book. In fact, I’ve gotten so snobby (and a bit lazy) that I’ve avoided any book that’s more than 300-350 pages. Somewhere along the line I had decided that 600 pages was utter nonsense and that I was entirely too busy and important to indulge some silly writer in 600 pages because they were unable to make choices or edit.
But long about September or October, Rock & Roll Bookclub decided they wanted to read Freedom. After all it was the book of fall. Being a bitch, I totally poo-pooed the idea using arguments like, “I don’t want to” and “he doesn’t need any more readers” and “but everyone is reading it.” Sadly we’re a democratic bookclub. I was voted insane and we’ll be discussing Freedom next week.
Anyway, as I said, I’ve been reading the big, difficult novel. I say it’s difficult because some of it is really fucking boring. So boring that while reading I say things like, “Jonathan Franzen, do I really need to know that?” And sometimes it’s really fucking good and I say things like “Nice one Jonathan Franzen.” And sometimes I get cranky with the way he portrays Patty Berglund and I say, “You lost me there Jonathan Franzen that was really condescending and dismissive. You’re better than that.” Mostly though, I just warn him, “this better be worth it Jonathan Franzen” or “I’m trusting you, Jonathan Franzen, to make this worth the while.”
Please note that Jonathan Franzen never replies. This is what I will pin my defense on.
The steady stream of questions to Jonathan Franzen has leaked over from the bedroom (which is where I am reading Freedom) into all my inner monologues. “I’m going to make some macaroni and cheese for dinner. I hope it’s good, Jonathan Franzen” (incidentally, it was not good. I’m giving up on homemade mac & cheese. I just can’t do it). Or “Should I go to Target today Jonathan Franzen?”
I’m not sure why this is. It might have something to do with the fact that I’m constantly trying to dissect the “magic” of Freedom which is why I keep having that one-sided, imaginary conversation with Jonathan Franzen. Thus far (and I’m 500+ pages in) I’m not seeing why this novel was heaped with so much praise and glory. But, despite my instinct to put it aside, I keep reading because I’m putting my faith in my new imaginary friend.
I don’t know a lot about Jonathan Franzen, the actual person. I listened to How to Be Alone years ago and loved it. Plus, I think I have a tender spot for him because he was a friend of David Foster Wallace (my Tiger Beat crush).
All I know is that I keep reading the book even though I’m not sure I want to, I keep saying things like, “Jonathan Franzen why is Joey such a dirtbag?” and I’ve had Wham!’s “Freedom” on repeat in my head for two weeks.