Barnes & Franzen

Jan 2, 2012

I must admit I was late to the Julian Barnes and Jonathan Franzen reading experience. I’d purchased “The Corrections” years ago, but it sat idly—on a musty, basement bookshelf no less—until the release of “Freedom” motivated me to catch up. And I loved it! Who could resist getting caught in Franzen’s web of inner exploration, so expertly explored that his initially “challenging” characters emerge as truthfully flawed and yet, hopeful. If I can’t say I didn’t want the book to end (as I have with books by Russo, or Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy), I nonetheless reveled in his command of language—Is there even one bad sentence in the book?—and headed to a local bookstore to snag “Freedom.”

Here’s where things became more complicated. I told the clerk I loved ‘The Corrections” and asked what she thought of his latest. She said, “Well, it’s more of the same; if you liked Corrections you’ll probably like this one.” Not exactly the enthusiastic response I’d expected; and perhaps the reason I delayed yet again opening the book. Stupid. I loved “Freedom,” maybe not quite as fully as Corrections, but not far off; it is certainly more complex in plot and number of characters, and Franzen juggles their fates to an expertly—and once again—hopeful ending. The only way this book fails is by not being BETTER than his prior masterpiece. Folks are tough out there…

Which brings me to Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending.” Okay, any Man-Booker winner will be highly scrutinized, but I can’t believe how much I’ve read criticizing the novel’s length. This is a captivating read, filled with complex emotion and shifting truths written in sentences of near perfect construction. So what if it’s less than 200 pages! I bought “Arthur & George” for my next taste of Barnes’ talent.

Both Franzen and Barnes are the kinds of writers who make the rest of us want to give up the craft…that is until one of our own sentences reads as well as theirs. There is always hope!


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