The genius of Jonathan Franzen

When reading any work of Jonathan Franzen after The Corrections (2001), take special note of the way he shapes characters: Alfred and Enid, an older couple, and Chip, Denise, and Gary, their adult children. They feel real as if they are more than just personalities. They are people you could recognise on the street, they could share a bus with you or stand in front of you in a queue. Characters crafted carefully by every word they speak and every step they take. Characters created with such detail and complexity that the characters from almost every other author become flat, perhaps a bit one-dimensional even. This is the genius of Franzen. The rest of his work simply lets the characters live. 

After the creation of Alfred and Chip, after exploring their inner thoughts, their feelings and their father-and-son bond, he only needs to put them together in a room: one sleeping on a kitchen table, Chip as a young boy who refused his dinner, the other the father returning from work, who carries the sleeping kid up and lays him in bed. This simple and commonplace scene creates an emotional depth that resonates with the human heart, through the layers created by the characters.

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