Since I began drafting this post, @NellZink on Twitter is no more. These DMs, screen-shots taken just before they went poof, are even more precious now. For those not in the know, Nell Zink wrote breakout novel The Wallcreeper (2014), National Book Award longlisted Mislaid (2015), and has a new novel, Nicotine, due out this fall.
I’ve had a couple of exciting Twitter moments. The first was figuring out how Twitter actually works in 2010. In 2011, I coined a hashtag that’s still in use. In 2012, a celebrity replied to me for the first time (J to the Roc). Since then, I’ve chatted with many authors, of course. But none of these moments compare to receiving an unexpected DM from Nell Zink.
@NellZink doesn’t have the blue check mark, but her profile is pretty on-brand: Goethe quoted in her bio, sparkly-blue-bird-fascinator in her profile pic, and the best part, her background pic, in which she gazes adoringly at a statue of Charles Dickens, side by side with Little Nell.
I don’t have a handle on her Twitter M.O. She deletes many of her tweets and pretty much all of her @ replies, only follows a handful of German accounts, and she likes, but never retweets, praise for her novels. But she’s out there, searching. If you tweet about her or Jonathan Franzen, as I am wont to do, you might just hear from her. I caught her eye with a silly tweet about JFranz sex scenes.
I won’t reveal the content of the DMs we exchanged, not because there was anything racy or controversial, but because that would be rude. I will reveal that it was I who stopped replying, and I feel awful about it, but the pressure was getting to me. Each morning of that magical week in August, I had to think of something intelligent to say to Nell Zink. I couldn’t hack it. Forgive me.
Okay, one thing: she taught me the phrase “O tempora, o mores!” which is a fancy way to say “kids these days.” This was in reference to Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, she read my review of The Wallcreeper and said it was “cute.”
When I worked up the nerve to get back in touch, Nell was kind enough to answer a few questions in honour of Franzen in February. She asked me to stress that this interview was conducted in Twitter DMs, as she is known for disliking email interviews and would like to keep it that way.
@LauraTFrey: You and Mr. Franzen are champions of each other’s work, but do you influence each other? Do you think you influenced Purity, and did he influence Nicotine?
@NellZink: He’s the hero of NICOTINE (in code), but I don’t think I influenced PURITY because he doesn’t pay that much attention.
@LauraTFrey: Will he blurb Nicotine? I’d love to see your blurb on one of his books…
@NellZink: He didn’t blurb any of my books; he blurbed me as a writer (as a way of getting around his refusal to write blurbs). MISLAID didn’t have blurbs – it had quotes from rave reviews of THE WALLCREEPER. Which is different and better.
@LauraTFrey: You said in your n+1 review of Purity that you hate most novels. Do you mean modern novels? Do you keep trying/reading or have you given up?
@NellZink: I’m picky, but I find good things to read fairly often. The odds that any given galley will float my boat are apparently so poor that I’ve started telling editors not to bother. Either that or people have a strange idea of what I might like.
Welcome to Franzen in February. That’s right, in the off chance that I didn’t alienate my entire readership when I reviewed Purity thrice last year, I’ve decided to devote the whole month of February to the fabulous Mr. F. Here are just some of the goodies I have in store:
- My conspiracy theory regarding the Franzen/Weiner feud (I just watched episode #1 of the X-files reboot, so I am ready to go in on this. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.)
- Q&A with Franzen Fan Club President and author of The Wallcreeper and Mislaid Nell Zink (!!!!)
- Q&A with CanLit darling and Franzen fan Sigal Samuel, author of The Mystics of Mile End
- Q&A with the fanatic behind Franzenfreude
- Guests posts from a couple of Franzen newbies (your first Franzen is a very special experience)
Oh, yeah, I’m going to read stuff too. Maybe even review. Here’s the thing, though: I read three of Franzen’s books last year, and I’m not really in the mood to read another one right now. Write about them, yes. Read more of them…no. That could put a damper on the whole event.
I figured it out a way around it. Part of Franzen’s mystique is how everyone seems to have an opinion about him, and many authors have come out in support or on the attack. I’m going to read books by authors who love him, who hate him, who’ve been blurbed by him, and so on. FranzenFriends and FranzenFoes, if you will. Here’s my stack:
A couple friend & foe ideas for you:
- FranzenFriends: Nell Zink, Sigal Samuel, David Foster Wallace, Emily Gould, Jami Attenberg, Chico Buarque, Laura Miller
- FranzenFoes: Jennifer Weiner, Roxane Gay, Curtis Sittenfield, Jodi Picoult
Get involved: read a book by Franzen, or a friend/foe; pitch me a guest post; or just follow along and comment. I’m not messing around with sign-ups, prizes, or read-alongs. I want to spend my time writing up all these fun posts.
I don’t really have an agenda. I’ve read his three “big” novels plus his memoir, and rated them three or four stars. I don’t even count him in my top ten authors. And I don’t give a shit if you refuse to read him for whatever (probably misinformed) reason. He’s just so fun to talk about. He’s a force in modern literature, but he can be, to quote a heroine of classic lit, so adorably clueless.
Whether you’re a FranzenFriend or FranzenFoe, stay tuned, this’ll be fun.
You know me. I love a clever title. I came up with three subtitles for my review of Purity, and can’t choose a favourite, so I’m subjecting you to a mini-reviews to go with each over the next few days:
- Review #1: Franziness. My basic review.
- Review #2: Fifty Shades of Franzen. A mostly-serious discussion of sexuality in literature.
- Review #3: Middlebrow and the Infinite Franz. A discussion of middlebrow literature.
Review #1: Franziness
Publication date: September 1, 2015
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Read this if you like: Jonathan Franzen
Check out Purity on Goodreads
Thanks to: The fine people at Macmillian (FSG) for giving me and 199 other lucky Book Expo America attendees an advance reader’s copy.
Like Nell Zink, I won’t bother trying to convince you to read Purity, because you already know if you’re going to read it or not (her review is still offline, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) As my mom used to say, if you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you will like. It’s got Franziness. See the end of this post for my incomplete list of Franziness indicators and add your own.
Franzen’s interviewer at Book Expo America made much of how “plotty” this book is, which is to say, things happen outside the family/personal realm. That’s true. The chapters set in Europe aren’t just a satirical sidebar, like they were in The Corrections. The affairs and sexual misconduct have larger implications for the characters than they did in Freedom. But Purity didn’t surprise me that much. It didn’t shake up my view of what a Franzen novel is.
I read The Corrections recently, and that helped me see what a step up Purity is. If you read his Big Three novels in order, you’d see them get better, smoother, less “I see what you did there.” The threads in Purity come together in a way that reminded me of The Luminaries; you almost don’t notice it till it’s done. There’s also a mystery and a murder, new territory for Franzen, but they don’t overwhelm the story. The characters are still in the forefront.
Speaking of, Purity demonstrates what Franzen’s strength has been all along: he creates characters the reader cares about. Not that we like, empathize with, or relate to (though you might do all those things,) but they keep you turning the pages and slogging through the parts that are sloggy and you miss them after you’re done. I miss Pip! She’s annoying and self-centred and predictable, but she got to me.
Purity is plotty, but it’s also pretty emotional. I don’t think I cried, but I felt real dread during the lead up to the murder, and felt impotent and icky during the seduction of, well, everyone who gets seduced. There were hilarious parts and weird parts and banal parts.
So, if you’re going to read Purity, you’re in for a treat, and if you’re not, please stand by, Reading in Bed will return to regular programming in a couple of days.
An incomplete list of things that have Franziness
- Wariness of the internet
- Mommy issues
- Daddy issues
- Unlikable narrators
- Weird/bad sex scenes
- Icky relationships between stunted man-child(ren) and younger, damaged women