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Monday, April 19, 2021

What’s up with Jonathan Franzen lately?

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When Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections was published in 2000, it was widely praised as a National Book Award finalist. Three years later, it won the award, and the New York Times called it a “masterful, beautifully crafted and deeply affecting novel.”

Now the tenor of the literary review landscape has changed. Partly, that’s because good books are now published in much greater volumes and with a wider variety of voices. Franzen has abandoned short-story writing for fiction.

But almost everything Franzen has published since The Corrections has been critically acclaimed. In 2008, he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. More recently, he was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for work published since 1990.

Franzen is still writing, though it is not what we expected when we first saw him. Though his publisher insists the number of books he has published is about the same, in fact, some of them are self-published. His newest novel, Nobel, has been released as an ebook, and the paperback will be available Oct. 19. Here is a brief look at three of his new books:

The Ninth House

Although The Corrections won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Franzen was nominated for the same prize in other categories. That will change in 2018. His other novel, The Woodlands, was recently published by Knopf in the United States, receiving a glowing review from the Times Book Review.

The Ninth House is the follow-up to The Corrections, and like that book, it is about a family. In it, Franzen portrays the effects of health problems on three generations of the Kerman family: When his father becomes wheelchair-bound, his wife, Ilene, is placed in the care of her brother, Cam — which leads to a surprise at Ilene’s 50th birthday party.

In making the publication of The Ninth House a joint publishing venture between Knopf and New Point Press, the subject matter of the novel will also be promoted.

I Called Him Arthur

Ninth House’s predecessor was established in 2003 as a publication house for New York University Press. The company folded in 2012 and was bought by Knopf, which continued to publish the remaining titles of the imprint. The Ninth House produces ebooks. Last year, The Ninth House released a collection of five short stories, titled How Much God Can You Live Without?, by a quartet of up-and-coming authors: Jay Lee Kinney, Helene Hanff, Nancy Goodman, and Jeff Weiss.

Kinney, a professor of English at NYU, was born in Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota. His work in the short story world includes the novel The Warning and a children’s book, I Say Chocolate. There is also a new annual collection of short stories, New Words for New Writers, and last year, the first new novel from Kinney in 12 years, Loving Mister Eichner.

Ninth House’s most recent project, a collection of 18 essays, edited by him, was released last September. It is titled Love Me Love Your Dog, and published as an ebook. The volume addresses the generation of the lives of four children: Two Norths in Antwon, NC, her favorite dog, and her artist husband, Douglas Klyce; Valentina, a working mother in Miami, and her two kids, Dimitri and Anna, who she met at college; and Felix, a Barcelona tattoo artist and his wife, Mindy, who has terminal lung cancer.

Franzen’s last book, written for Knopf and published in 2007, is called Walt Whitman: A Life.

Birth of a Dream Weaver

This book is not even published yet, but it was released this fall as an ebook. Franzen, born and raised in Texas, is the author of several nonfiction books, most notably House of Leaves and Freedom. In 2017, he was a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.

The Birth of a Dream Weaver is his first novel in more than a decade. It is about Lydia, a woman in her early 40s. She has a 15-year-old boy to raise and cares for her deteriorating mother, while dealing with the absurdities of her middle-class life.

A listing of Random House titles will be published in a few days.

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