Fiction & Biography

AMERICAN DRAMA JONATHAN FRANZEN The Corrections (Fourth Estate 91799) 0...

While most British writers are quite happy to dissolve their talents on hand-outs from Grub Street, it seems every jobbing US writer has a dream. Stretch it, bend it, squeeze it, do what you will; the dream is to write the Great American Novel. So, just as we are getting over the news that Norman Mailer wants to see Tom Wolfe in the Kmart car park for a bout of bare-knuckle fighting while Saul Bellow holds the towels, here comes the hottest book since Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Earmuffed in solitude in a spartan Manhattan apartment, Jonathan Franzen’s great life work was published to rapturous reviews Stateside in early September. Initially compared to Leo Tolstoy and Thomas Mann, the book was picked up by Oprah Winfrey and selected for her Book Club. The Corrections then went straight to the top of the bestseller lists. Franzen though, pulled out his highbrow card and refused to appear on Oprah’s show. Meanwhile, the previous Boy Wonder DeLillo jumped aboard and declared Franzen’s effort to be The Great American Masterpiece. It all adds up to hype beyond belief and now the publication date in this country has been brought forward two months so we can gorge ourselves silly on WASPY family

‘lonatlian Franzen has built a powerful novel out of the swarming consciousness of a marriage, a family. a whole culture.‘ Don DeLillo

This year’s Great American Novel

dysfunction around the Christmas tree.

Like the story of this enjoyable book’s path to literary gold, The Corrections contains all the welcome elements of a great soap opera. The Lamberts are the sort of family that used to be the pride of the Midwest but are now in their autumn years. Mother Enid is a scatological busybody and husband Alfred suffers from Parkinson’s and deep depression brought about by retirement.

Their three kids live as far away from them as they can but Enid keeps trying to pull them back to the simpler pleasures of Midwestern life. Gary, the only one who has given them grandkids rails against the hatred of his harpy wife and sons while spiralling deeper into misery. Chip, a disgraced ex-literature professor keeps poverty

at bay with a stunning lack of self-awareness, but being his father’s favourite, maintaining distance from his decrepit parents proves much tougher. And Denise, a high profile chef, is rootless and cynical, invested with the painful stubbornness of her cantankerous father.

And thus it goes, back and forth, through stories and digressions (think DeLillo and the movie Magnolia), with the personal illuminating both the political and historical. Moments are not so much snatched from eternity as dragged out, beaten and made to fit this long, sad, soapy tale. Here though, we already have a masterpiece that predates this glut of touch type cultural linkage. It was called Pompey by Jonathan Meades. (Paul Dale)



A Cook's Tour (Bloomsbury 5:16.99) .0

liy the mm of Kitchen Confidential

I ll min [I u r If in "I'm .3“

An apocalyptic journey

104 THE LIST '~" 12w. 1/ 3‘. f’, .iiii‘. 20’)?

You don't have to be a non-carnivore to hate this. but it undoubtedly helps. Anthony BOurdain executive chef. crime novelist. hardline smoker and veggie-baiter has followed up his stupendously successful Kitchen Confidential with an even larger bout of literary schadenfreude in A Cook '3 Tour. The particular misfonune he alludes to is ours for not being lucky enough to be living his life.

For some reason. his inspiration for all this is Apocalypse Now, so he goes deep frying into the heart of the world's darknesses in search of the perfect meal. Unfortunately. there's quite a lot of this about at the moment: Channel 5 is paying Keith Floyd to blearily traverse India on that tack while Stuart Stevens' appetismg travel tale Feeding Frenzy is actually subtitled A Race Across Europe In Search Of The Perfect Meal.

None of which is necessarily BOurdain's fault. but apiiig others more

directly certainly is. Criticising US health Nazis for their anti-public smoking policies would be fine if it wasn't so 1990; Denis Leary was making the same jokes in his past life as a stand-up all those years ago.

Another warning: A Cook‘s Tour is set to be transformed into a Channel 4 series with no-holds to be barred and a gung-ho routine or three as far away from Nigella's airbrushed joie de vivre as you can get. You can't imagine Ms Lawson standing around nonchalantly while a live pig is being ripped apart before her eyes. We know Tony is going to be on TV because he tells us over and over again that a camera crew is following him into every hellhole on earth.

And frankly, it really is hard to enjoy someone who believes that calling another human a ‘fat, wonhless. Syphilitic puddle of badger crap' can be a term of endearment. Get back in the kitchen. (Brian Donaldson)

First writes

Debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: John Wray

Who he? John Wray is a 30- year-old novelist and poet from Washington DC. who was

brought up by scientist parents

in both Austria and America. His debut novel draws on his

Austrian family history over the last century. Currently resident in Brooklyn, Wray's first poetry : collection won a prize from the Academy Of American Poets . and New York University.

His debut The Right Hand Of Sleep follows the chequered fortunes of his protagonist Oskar Voxlauer. from the Italian Front in 1917 through his i conversion to Bolshevism and a tragic love affair during his twenty-year residence in the

Ukraine. The events are related

in flashback from 1938 when.

with the dark shadow of fascism spreading across Europe. Oskar returns to the small Austrian

town of his upbringing.

Basically . . . Wray's debut successfully highlights the

personal demons that motivate

his characters to embrace

political extremes. His prose

style is clipped and clear.

Oskar's wartime experiences rendered all the more horrific by

the muted narration. Ultimately though. the book's stately pace

and the cold civility of the

characters will leave readers

longing for a wee bit of passion. First line test 'A boy came out

of the house first. the crumbling. sun-yellowed house wrth the

dark tiles and ivied sides. the

peaked roof and sandstone

steps down which he went

stiffly. nervously. adjusting the

plaid schoolboy's backpack on

his shoulders.’

(Allan Radcliffe)

I The Right Hand Of Sleep is pub/ished by Vintage priced

£6. 99.