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On the Web Wed Mar 09 2011

Franzen Wins First Round

freedom.jpgYou're keeping up with The Morning News's annual Tournament of Books, right? Yesterday Chicago native and Book Club selection author Jonathan Franzen won his first round with Freedom against Teddy Wayne's Kapitoil. Says judge Sarah Manguso:

Postmodernism seems to have let the blood out of half of the bad contemporary American novels, and sentiment masquerades as depth of feeling in the other half--in a naughty moment, Patty and Walter's son refers to the latter sort of book's reliance on "descriptions of rooms and plantings." Franzen gets away with that crack, though, for what Freedom attempts is more ambitious than mere sentiment or mere intellection. It asks us to empathize with its lily-white characters, despite their Volvos and organic gardens and upper-body workouts, despite their chosen confinement in such banal surroundings. And since the book manages to render suburban St. Paul a viable setting for the full range of human emotional experience, I felt its characters' pains and joys. With firm control of its dense and rigorous sentences, Freedom hits all its marks. Despite erratic pacing and an endpoint that seems somewhat arbitrary--why not 300 more pages, or 300 less?--the book satisfies its worthy ambitions.

Stay tuned to read the judges' commentaries on the other contestants, including fellow Chicago native Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, and find out who wins the tournament on April 1.

 
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