- David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons
- MILLIONAIRES! They're just like us!
I'm almost starting to feel bad for Jonathan Franzen: It seems like every time he's interviewed, he says something so deeply tone-deaf, I want someone to crowdfund a new publicist for him. Then I remember that the dude is loaded, like not novelist-doing-pretty-good-loaded (aka "financially stable"), but net worth estimated at $5-10 million loaded.
Franzen can afford to clean up his image. What he apparently lacks is the motivation to do so, which leaves a regular trail of very public, very ignorant comments to complain about on Twitter. In this way, he's kind of like the Gwyneth Paltrow of the literary world, although honestly I think Gwyneth Paltrow has a lot more to recommend her, at least in one particular arena: Franzen's squirrelly when asked to discuss publishing's gender gap; Paltrow, by contrast, is a vocal feminist who publicly supports Planned Parenthood and equal pay. How Gwyneth Paltrow is better than Jonathan Franzen: a discussion for another time.
Meanwhile, Franzen made his latest foot-in-mouth comment at the Financial Times, when he talked about how he's not rich, but a "poor person who has money," which, sure:
I make some disparaging remarks about the restaurant’s frumpy decor but he declines to join in. For him its unpopularity is an advantage. “There’s a certain sameness to high-end restaurant experiences, at least in New York, I’m kind of nauseated by the clientele. They’re total 1 per centers and they’re doing it every day and there’s something kind of just disgusting and like the pigs in Animal Farm about the whole thing.”
But since the rip-roaring success of The Corrections 14 years ago, isn’t he a 1 per center himself? “I am literally, in terms of my income, a 1 per center, yes,” he says, his eyes not on me but on the empty table next to us. “I spend my time connected to the poverty that’s fundamental to mankind, because I’m a fiction writer.”
He doesn’t write about poverty, I protest. He writes about the angst of people like him and the people he knows. Franzen gives the neighbouring table top a weary look. “That’s a quotation from Flannery O’Connor, by the way.”
While I smart, he goes on: “I’m a poor person who has money.”
He also gets into how his second home is "rather small," but if you really want to read the whole interview, you can do that here. The gist, though, is that Jonathan Franzen would very much like you to know that Jonathan Franzen isn't a regular rich person, you guys. He's a cool rich person.
To be fair, at least he's consistent. Jonathan Franzen's novels may be populated by poorly-written women, but at least Franzen's evident disdain for others isn't (just) boring old misogyny—he has it in for EVERYONE, including, apparently, the "total one-percenters" he's so loath to identify with, even though he's actually a millionaire. He's like Statler AND Waldorf. Everything is the worst thing he's ever seen. It must take willpower to sustain such levels of pursed-lipped disappointment. It's almost admirable somehow.
But COME ON. "A poor person who has money"? Is that like a celibate person who has sex? A vegetarian who eats meat? An unemployed person who has a job with great benefits? Does he mean poor in relation to Warren Buffett? Will nothing ever be good enough for him? Is he walking, talking proof that money doesn't buy happiness?
On second thought, maybe I don't want Jonathan Franzen to clean up his image at all. His commitment to being morose about everything is simply too fascinating. He's like the friend you hang out with who's always ready to tell you about their freshest disaster. You know you should look away, but you can't. Because in some morbidly curious part of your psyche, you know you don't want to.