5 episodes

A podcast about Jonathan Franzen

Mr. Difficult Mr. Difficult

    • Arts

A podcast about Jonathan Franzen

    Episode 5: Freedom

    Episode 5: Freedom

    In this episode, Erin, Alex, and Eric are joined by novelist Jacob Bacharach to discuss Jonathan Franzen’s fourth novel, Freedom. Perhaps Franzen’s angriest book, it is in some ways a step forward—particularly with regards to the character of Patty—and in other ways a step back toward his messier and more self-indulgent earlier work. We discuss what works and (mostly) what doesn’t in Franzen’s most Franzen-y book.







    Outro music: “Insanely Happy” by the Traumatics.







    The Traumatics







    Walnut Surprise

    • 1 hr 1 min
    Episode 4: The Corrections Pilot

    Episode 4: The Corrections Pilot

    In 2012, Noah Baumbach and Jonathan Franzen teamed up to work on a television adaptation of Franzen's breakthrough novel The Corrections for HBO. Starring Ewen McGregor, Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the resulting pilot was something of a disaster and was quietly shelved by the network. Filming was never completed, it also never aired, and few people who weren't involved in its production have seen it.



    But we have! In this episode, Erin, Alex, and Eric are joined by Variety TV Critic Daniel D'Addario to discuss what works and what doesn't in this strange relic of the early years of "peak TV."

    • 46 min
    Episode 3: The Corrections

    Episode 3: The Corrections

    In this episode, Erin, Alex, and Eric are joined by the novelist Emily Gould to discuss Jonathan Franzen’s third novel—and Mr. Difficult-consensus best book—The Corrections. In the novel, published days before 9/11, Franzen finally puts it all together: a biting satire of the 1990s, the book is, at heart, a funny, moving, and sometimes scabrous account of a family in turmoil at the turn of the century.

    • 47 min
    Episode 2: Strong Motion

    Episode 2: Strong Motion

    In this episode, Erin, Alex, and Eric are joined by Matt Zeitlin and Mark Krotov to discuss Jonathan Franzen’s second novel—and Mr. Difficult-consensus worst book—Strong Motion. Unlike The Twenty-Seventh City, this book almost feels like a Jonathan Franzen novel. Almost. Instead, it’s a convoluted, angry, and deeply horny book about earthquakes, radio station maintenance, and the environmental history of Boston that also might be the most 1990s novel ever written. Also, it contains a section narrated by a raccoon.

    • 50 min
    Episode 1: The Twenty-Seventh City

    Episode 1: The Twenty-Seventh City

    Published in 1988 and set in his native St. Louis, Jonathan Franzen’s debut novel, The Twenty-Seventh City, is a promising, ambitious mess. A Pynchonian conspiracy (with a dash of DeLillo and Gaddis here and there), the novel features a convoluted conspiracy in which an Indira Ghandi-like figure and a gang of Indian immigrants attempts to quietly seize power via a campaign of torture, terrorism, and seduction. Their primary target is Martin Probst, a conservative family man. But this is not like Franzen’s later novels: the family life is tertiary to the main action, which mostly involves lengthy conversations about municipal politics.







    In this episode, Erin, Alex, and Eric discuss what works (and mostly what doesn’t) about The Twenty-Seventh City, the book’s cringey racial and sexual politics, and whether or not its central plot is something out of Tucker Carlson’s fevered imagination.

    • 53 min

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