When I was a teenager I had a friend who always said just the right thing to make me laugh (the almost-pee-my-pants variety). And just when I thought I’d caught my breath, he’d turn the conversation on its head and say something really profound.
Once, while sitting in the bleachers at a high school football game, he was goofing around, adding adjectives to the word wombat… “hairy wombat”, “mercenary wombat”, prodigious wombat”…then he said, “What do you think happens after we die?”
I spilled half my hot chocolate down my marching band uniform. “Geez, I don’t know…do you?”
He just looked at me and said, “Nothing.”
He stared off at the game. “Yeah, Nothing.”
Neither one of us said anything for a bit. I started to go on with it, but he cut me off…”Resurrected Wombat”.
That night when I went to bed, I cried myself to sleep. Not for any weighty spiritual or religious reasons, but because the honesty of his words had forced me to consider myself in a way I didn’t know how to handle.
This is exactly what I long for when I write. To not only tell a good story, but to tell it with such honesty that the words will bring the reader to some new part of themselves.
Jonathan Franzen gets it.
A friend recently asked me if I had read Franzen’s piece in The New Yorker, The Comfort Zone: Growing up With Charlie Brown. I hadn’t. “You really should, it’s outstanding.” He was right.
It’s an honest, everlastinggobstopper of a story about Franzen’s need for the imagined world of Charlie Brown to act as his touchstone while the relationship between his older brother and his parents fell apart. Brilliant. By the end, I was rummaging through the bottom of my desk drawers, searching for a long-lost envelope of yellowed comic strips my mother had sent to me when I was away at University. Peanuts, The Chocolate Chip Cookies series. When your boyfriend has dumped you, there’s nothing more comforting than looking at Snoopy, piously saying to Woodstock, All the Chocolate Chip Cookies are gone…
If you haven’t read Franzen’s marvelous ode to Alice Munro’s Runaway, you should. I defy anyone who hasn’t already picked up Munro’s latest short story collection to resist the temptation to run to the nearset bookstore after reading his review.
Evidently, John Eklund thinks so too.
I’m not moved by advertising, though I’m obsessive about reading reviews. (The recent Jonathan Franzen piece on the Alice Munro short story collection in the Times Book Review had me desperate to own a copy.)
Yup, Franzen’s got it…and I hope he continues to bring it to the page, straight and true, for a long time to come. I hope he continues to use his powers for good.
With great power, comes great responsibility…
Writer’s Website of the week:
I choose John Eklund’s Piece, Don’t Point That Ad at Me, The Business of Books is Bad for Reading.. Eklund, a book rep from Milwaulkee, wrote the article for Inversion Magazine. He tackles what he feels is the current commercialized state of the publishing industry and goes on to talk about how he finds new books to love.