Jonathan Franzen, on the cover of Time


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Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” is coming out later this month, and it’s being treated with no little fanfare. Franzen appears on the cover of the upcoming issue of Time magazine -- an honor not extended to a living author since Stephen King in 2000 -- with the words “Great American Novelist” in large type.

The headline is not for the geekily bookish minority of people who might recognize Franzen at a glance. It’s for the majority, who are likely to look at the cover and think, “Who’s that guy?” Now they know. He’s the Great American Novelist.


Those people may not remember that Franzen’s last novel, “The Corrections,” won the 2001 National Book Award. They probably don’t know that its reputation has only grown since then; it made many best-of-the-decade lists last year.

And then there was the Oprah thing. Oprah’s book club had been going like gangbusters, and she selected “The Corrections” for it, all but guaranteeing significant sales. Franzen expressed some discomfort at his book’s selection, and his remarks were widely reported -- his apologies less so -- causing Oprah to not just cancel the selection but to severely scale back her book club. Bad news for publishing.

The affair left Franzen understandably gun-shy about talking to the media. In the Time magazine piece, Lev Grossman writes that Franzen is still “uneasy.”

It’s hard to say exactly what makes Franzen so uncomfortable. It could be me, or the prospect of being on the cover of Time. It could be the pressure of having to follow up the huge success of The Corrections, or it could be the much fretted-over standing of the novel in America’s cultural-entertainment complex. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Exactly how Franzen demonstrated that discomfort is a mystery, for now; Time has posted only part of the story online. To read the complete version, people will have to purchase a print copy when it goes on sale Friday. “Freedom,” officially hits shelves August 31.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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