Reading Franzen: Part II Cont’d



In part II: the Failure— we follow the miserable existence of Chip man-child as he picks up his parents from the airport, only to come home to find his married girlfriend leaving him possibly forever, if she’s smart. Then, in defiance of all writing conventions we are whisked away to Chip’s past, and how he came to be fired from his job as a professor at D— College (he slept with a student—also I’m guessing D stands for Dumb-ass?), and how he met his current girlfriend. All while occasionally slipping back to the present where Chip is nowhere to be found. Curiously, throughout this story Chip manages to continue not to take responsibility for his actions in spite of the ever increasing reality that it is in fact all his fault. More curiously is the fact that he basically lives off his sister for several months without any kind of self loathing at the fact that his existence and that of his girlfriend (whom he spends his sister’s money on with no remorse) is thanks entirely to several large loans his sister bestowed upon him.


I find it really fascinating how a character appears to have moments of genuine self awareness, and how inevitably this moment of self awareness is completely shut down by their own actions or words within the next paragraph. This is particularly true with Chip who it almost appears has the vague understanding that he is full of shit, but is perhaps so full of his own shit that it is impossible for him to see his way out of it.

Only in ‘literary fiction’ (the one true fiction worthy of any intellectual person’s time, naturally), is it acceptable to slip randomly into the past to explain the minutiae of Chip’s life that nobody asked for, including disturbing accounts of his sexual escapades. What is it specifically about literary fiction that seems to produce a great deal of sex scenes but ones there are discussed in such a distancing clinical way as to be so off putting it’s almost unreadable? Did I really need to read Chip sniff/fucking his chaise lounge? I don’t think so.

Throughout reading this particular section I found myself liking Chip less and less than I ever thought possible. Between leaching off his sister and his questionable morals, and his concern with the femininity of the woman he’s sleeping with lest he be seen as ‘queer’— puts him somewhere on the negative end of a scale of detestable characters, and don’t even get me started on his odd desire to be contradictory for contradictions sake.

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