Farther Away


The Foppishness of Praise-By-Attack in Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away

Farther Away
by Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux  April 2012
336 pages / $26  Buy from Amazon


There’s a tendency in writing about fiction to praise one novel by attacking others, assuming that, if these other novels are bad, the novel under consideration must be good. This approach is seen with unsurprising frequency in Jonathan Franzen’s 2012 collection Farther Away.  Assessing the stories and novels of Alice Munro, Paula Fox, Christina Stead, and James Purdy, Franzen is categorically unable to praise the writers he cherishes without insulting somebody else.

Eustace Chisholm and the Works, a novel by Purdy published in 1967, is, according to Franzen, “so good that almost any novel you read immediately after it will seem at least a little posturing, or dishonest, or self-admiring, in comparison.” Franzen goes on to say that Eustace Chisholm is better than the sentimental and rhetorically manipulative Catcher in the Rye, superior to the works of Richard Yates, which are haunted by self-pity, and more legit than Saul Bellow, who seems “wordy and academic and show-offy if you read him directly after Eustace Chisholm.” While dissing Purdy’s contemporaries might be fun, it doesn’t tell us much about Eustace Chisholm, nor does it let the novel succeed on its own merits.


September 14th, 2012 / 12:00 pm