(The following comments are based on readings of Roth’s Dying Animal, Indignation, Everyman and Portnoy’s Complaint; and Franzen’s The Corrections… so my comments are only the beginning of some insights into these two great American novelists.)
These guys are serious and smart and have little time for fun or play except in the form of rich ironies. It’s as if the only response to a culture saturated with trivia and the empty pursuit of things venal can brook no substantive response but that of the dour. I understand. I respect the subtleties and ironies of their response, but I long for joy and reckless energies in the literary fiction that I read. (Portnoy’s Complaint, of course is like that, so what I’m saying only contains an element of truth.) Roth and Franzen are like surgeons. They cut and examine in molecular detail. They are clean. They use lenses. But they bring me little but heartache. Maybe that’s all there is when you see things clearly in the USA today. Donald Trump running for President. The wealthy – corporations and individuals – paying little or no taxes while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet, or slip into foreclosure and poverty. Predatory and useless warfare posing as patriotic heroism. I understand why Roth and Franzen are so bleak. But where can I as a serious and smart reader find joy?
For now I am looking toward David Foster Wallace for that; of whom, more later.