Kids Like Us: Franzen, Wallace, Eugenides, and Karr

A friend forwarded me this terrific New York Books article about the young friendships of David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Jeffery Eugenides, and Mary Karr.

Mary Karr was one of the first authors I latched onto in high school. My completely awesome rebel of an English teacher assigned her memoir Liar’s Club, after which I devoured her follow-up, Cherry (for which I named the eponymous girly in CHERRY MONEY BABY).

In college I picked up The Corrections and put it down twice on the advice of two readers I respected, who claimed they “just couldn’t get through it.” Finally I decided to ignore their advice, and was enthralled. Last June I gobbled up Freedom much the same.

In July I started Eugenides Middlesex, which someone had given to me as a gift, and which I’d avoided, thinking it was an “issues book.” Now Eugenides is one of my favorite authors, and I’m loving his latest, Marriage Plot.

I was amazed that three of my heroes, each of whom I’d come to separately, were close at the same age I am now, and in the same place (Eugenides lived in Prospect Heights, just a few blocks from my apartment). It was also heartening to discover these writers struggled in their late twenties, even those who’d published already. (Yes, I felt like a smarty-pants to find Karr and Franzen shared my opinions about Wallace’s early fiction.). I know, I know: it’s corny, not to mention narcissistic, to read an article like this and see parallels to one’s own life (friends and I have already had the obligatory You’re Jeff and I’m David. No dude, if any one’s David I’m David conversations), but it is heartening to remember that even the great ones experience self-doubt, set backs, and the same tribulations as the rest of us humans. And to remember there are other people who care so much about novels.

I’d like to think if I were trying to write in Brooklyn in the ’80’s, I’d have been pals with Jeff, traded barbs with Jonathan, and cried when Mary chose David over me.

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