Genius

I’m still reading ‘The Corrections’.

I started it in 1934, even though it was written in 2001- an impressive achievement.

Jonathan Franzen has an unparalleled ability to create unique individuals out of universal characters.

Every human being is a type, insofar as we all behave with a certain predictable consistency: a vegetarian with a hemp wardrobe is unlikely to love plastic, for example.

A lot of inconsistencies breed eccentricity, while a majority foothold doth madness make.

But add just a few and what you get is an individual. (Turns out the vegetarian was a stripper in her twenties and smokes 20 Benny Hedgehogs a day.)

All novelists walk this line as a tightrope between skyscrapers: too broad a brushstroke and they’ve created cardboard cut-outs; an over-zealous daubing of quirkiness and the protagonists don’t feel real.

Franzen synthesises the two flawlessly, sweeping up every idiosyncratic morsel in the heads of his subjects (no crumb too miniscule) yet somehow making them immediately familiar.

Add to this a respect for the tragic and a flair for the hilarious and the result is gold-plated Top Banana.

I’m at the bit where Enid is on a Nordic Cruise trip and has been befriended by the promising Sylvia, who steals her away from an uncomfortable dining experience to the Lagerkvist Taproom, for a tete-a-tete. While a dwarf in a horned helmet and leather jerkin serves them cloudberry akvavit potato vodka, Sylvia embarks on an outpouring of grief over the torture and murder of her daughter.

Sylvia and her husband’s diametrically opposed emotional reactions to this traumatic event are drawn intensely, invoking powerful feelings of hatred and revenge, with which the reader empathises. Enid, however, considers herself less intellectual than her confider and, as a result, finds her attention diverted to the bartender.

So it is, that after Sylvia’s most indepth and harrowing unburdening, this follows:

‘Maybe one more?’ Enid said to the dwarf, raising her glass. She was almost wholly not listening to Sylvia but shaking her head and murmuring ‘Uh!’ and ‘Oh!’ while her consciousness stumbled through clouds of alcohol into such absurd realms of speculation as how the dwarf might feel against her hips and belly, embracing her.’

… so that the synopsis of this scene might be: mature woman fantasises about dwarf sex as new friend describes the emotional fallout of her daughter’s brutal murder.

There are other writers whose work I enjoy more- who have perhaps left a more complex, challenging, meaningful etc. aftertaste and whose style I might rather emulate- but none who has forced me to pause mid-read so regularly in order to smile and think, ‘That is just so bloody genius.’

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