Jonathan Franzen

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“I mean, writers are horribly envious and so nobody likes stars, we always feel like it’s a zero-sum game and whatever stardom somebody else has is being taken directly from us, so we hate the stars. But we also need them. Because the possibility of some level of stardom is what will continue to attract new writers to the game. If you’re a linguistically talented 22-year-old, there’s a list of things you can be: you can work in Hollywood, you can be a blogger, etc. And if being a novelist equates to some quaint thing like being a Morris dancer, who’s going to choose this?”

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The opening of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom; the complexities and relationships of a wholly American couple.

"For all queries, Patty Berglund was a resource, a sunny carrier of sociocultural pollen, an affable bee. She was one of the few stay-at-home moms in Ramsey Hill and was famously averse to speaking well of herself or ill of anybody else. She said that she expected to be 'beheaded' someday by one of the windows whose sash chains she’d replaced. Her children were 'probably' dying of trichinosis from pork she’d undercooked. She wondered if her 'addiction' to paint-stripper fumes might be related to her “never” reading books anymore. She confided that she’d been 'forbidden' to fertilize Walter’s flowers after what had happened 'last time.'"

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A metaphorical tale of a wayward younger brother and his icy relationship with his siblings.

"The fifth brother, Joseph, was much younger. By the time he came of age, there were no comfortable rooms left for him, and so he was given the raw rooms in the mansion's newer wing. Joseph was a strange, solitary, somewhat frightening child, and although his brothers loved him, they were relieved to have him out of their hair. Joseph wished to be a gentleman like his brothers, but life was difficult in the raw wing of the mansion. The new wing was a place of Protestant industry, and Joseph went to work."

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Married sitcom writers, once famous for their love, buckle under sexual and creative differences.

"The funniest lines in their work, the lines with that satisfying crackle of sadism, were mostly his, but he was aware that it was Pam’s confidence and Pam’s higher tolerance for cliché that had won them their big contracts. And now, because she wasn’t engineered for doubt, Pam seemed to think it didn’t matter that she’d gained fifteen pounds since moving to the mountains and that she was thumping around the house with the adipose aquiver in her freckled upper arms; she certainly seemed not to care that they hadn’t had sex since before Labor Day; and she’d been pointedly deaf to certain urgent personal-grooming and postural hints that Paul had dropped during their photo shoot for L.A. Weekly."

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On the tangled early careers of Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Mary Karr and Jeffrey Eugenides.