Thursday, May 26, 2005


Over a lunch of peanut butter crackers and chocolate (the dark kind with lots of anti-oxidants in case you're worrying about my nutritional status) I read Jonathan Franzen's new story, "Two's Company" in the May 23rd edition of the New Yorker. A short piece, it was almost as tasty as my chocolate--and in its own cunning way just as dark.

The story focuses on Pam and Paul, the perfect couple. Not only are they madly in love and highly compatible, they're writing comedic scripts together in L.A. "at the combined age of 43." They sell their first pilot when they're only 27, and an eight figure deal soon follows. (Call me naive,but I didn't know there was such a thing. But then again, I exist in the world of lit mags that pay mostly in honorariums or free subscriptions.)

Soon, however, the perfection of their marriage becomes a tyranny, and Pam (the more talented or just more market-savvy partner) the chief tyrant. When she decides to make a show called "Two's Company" to celebrate (or cash in) on their putatively flawless partnership, she can't allow that the fictional husband might be even momentarily attracted to a busty bimbo named Kimba. (Nice alliteration, huh?)

As if to prove that the laws of testosterone are more powerful than his wife's script, Paul promptly begins to fantasize about the young star of the show. When Pam finds out he's met the girl for coffee, she summarily ends the marriage. Apparently for her, it's perfection or nothing.

Is it possible to thoroughly enjoy a story and be irritated by it at the same time?
Apparently so. I closed the magazine, filled with admiration for what Franzen was able to accomplish with a few deft strokes, but irritated as hell by the way he's backed his characters into a corner. Especially Pam. Can't a female character ever be strong and talented--and still be human, too?

Just asking.

P.S. While I was searching for a link to the story, which I didn't find, I came across a great blog called Earth Goat. For an entirely different take on this story, check it out.


I did not know the work of Israeli novelest, Batya Gur, who died earlier this week of cancer, but in this quote, spoken just before her diagnosis, she reminded me of what I'm always in danger of forgetting:

"I view life as a journey of initiation for death. A person lives, suffers, dies. All the rest is grace. And love is grace. Writing is grace."


Grendel said...

Thanks for the link, Patry. Enjoyed your take, too. Although I thought that Pam ended up the more human, and Paul as a cartoony, cliched, black-clad writer/complainer. I do know what you mean about irritated. Something about Franzen. I do admire his writing, but there is something about it that grates somewhere on my soul. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe that's part of his artistic vision. If so, he's doin' it.

I've been reviewing the New Yorker story every week now for about a month. There must be thousands of movie reviews on the Web, but as far as I can tell so far, I'm the only NYer story reviewer. I did it to make myself read the stories and it's working (so far).

Nice site, btw. Hope to see you again cruising around the e-ther.

Patry Francis said...

And New Yorker stories are usually so much more interesting than movies.

I too have a stack of New Yorkers (or a few stacks) lying around that I really do intend to read. Now that I know you're reviewing them, maybe that will give me some incentive, too. I can check in and see if we agree.

Oh, and one more thing--that dog looks so much like my Jade, I swear you've been lurking around taking her picture.

Grendel said...

Ha! That's the real Grendel -- I have borrowed his name for blogging purposes. Does Jade have a Dogster page? We could make them friends. Here's Grendel's.

Patry Francis said...

Amazing the things dogs can do. I wrote my first novel under Jade's name. Unfortunately, it didn't sell, but Jade receives daily lectures on the capriciousness of the market and is trying not to take it personally.

katrina said...

I love this quote! And your blog is a marvelous garden, indeed.