5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
a book of miscellaneous essays,
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This review is from: How to be Alone (Paperback)
A book of miscellaneous essays written betwen 1995 and 2002.
Some essays cover Franzen's life, including an excellent first essay about his father's decline and death from Alzheimer's. These are a foretaste of Franzen's excellent memoir the Discomfort Zone.
Some essays cover the themes of writing novels and reading them. About these I would say that Franzen only gradually sketches out an interesting and coherent position - the 2002 essay about William Gaddis is reflective, persuasive and entirely coherent. In the Foreword, Franzen says he made substantial cuts to one of the earlier essays on this theme - he could see with the benefit of hindsight that the argument wasn't clear and the tone was ranting. I would say that this remained true of that essay even it is edited form...but it does have interest, as you can see Franzen struggle towards a theoretical position that supports the kind of novel that he would like to write - and that he has certainly since written.
A third group of essays cover topics such as the Chicago Post Office and its shortcomings; and maxmimum security prisons in the US...Maximum security prisoners may need to learn how to be alone, in that they are mostly in continuous solitary confinement, but the thematic links here to the first two groups of essays are forced or obscure. And ater reading Franzen's essay Lost In the Post, I've learned that I'm just not THAT interested in the shortcoming of the Chicago Post Office in and of itself...