Jonathan Franzen’s thrilling new novel follows a group of uncompromising characters unwilling to be tainted by the worldby Elaine Showalter / July 16, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
“So many Jonathans. A plague of literary Jonathans. If you read only the New York Times Book Review you’d think it was the most common male name in America,” bitches Charles Blenheim, an embittered novelist in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Purity. Once a hot shot himself, “the heir of John Barth and Stanley Elkin,” Blenheim, a heavy drinker with long cornsilk hair who rides a Harley-Davidson (clearly based on the American novelist John Gardner, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1982), has outlived his early promise, and is fuming at the success of “Jonathan Savoir Faire”and his literary cohort of talented and ambitious wunderkind. He’s trying to write the “big book” that will “secure him his place in the modern American canon. Once upon a time,” he complains, “it had sufficed to write The Sound and the Fury or The Sun Also Rises. Now bigness was essential. Thickness, length.” When Blenheim’s big phallic book does come out, it is spurned by the critics.