Is Ann Patchett the female Jonathan Franzen?
In some respects, Jonathan Franzen and Ann Patchett seem separated at birth – except for all the ways in which they are polar opposites.
TIME Magazine canonized him with the corny halo of Great American Novelist. He loathes Twitter and Facebook and spits on e-books. Is childless by choice. Waxes passionate about endangered species (songbirds like the Cerulean Warbler). Was devastated by the loss of a beloved friend and fellow writer to suicide. Has strong if owlishly unfashionable opinions on the way we live now. (“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction”). And was scathing about literary taste-makers who didn’t get his work. (“Michiko Kakutani is a national embarrassment.”)
TIME Magazine has nominated her to its list of most-influential persons. She finds Twitter distasteful and hasn’t watched television in years. Is childless by choice. Waxes passionate about a different endangered species (independent bookstores in Nashville, Tenn.). Was devastated by the loss of her closest friend and fellow writer to a heroin overdose. Has firm opinions on the way we live now, whether it is the sexual revolution (“You can have my birth-control pills when you pry them out of my cold, dead hands”) or children playing Angry Birds on iPads (“a terrible idea”). And was scathing about sub-literate suburbanites who didn't get her work. ("If stories about girls who are disfigured by cancer, humiliated by strangers, and turn to sex and drugs to escape from their enormous pain are too disgusting, too pornographic, then I have to tell you, friends, the Holocaust is off-limits. The Russian Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, the war in Vietnam, the Crusades.”)
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Crucially, both are envied purveyors of literary "masstige" – a marketing mash-up of “mass” and “prestige” to tag gourmet but fast-moving consumer goods, or in this case, serious literary novels that are thumping best-sellers. Success – the operatic, breakthrough sort of success that they now command – came late in their writing lives, and, co-incidentally, in the same year, 2001. His first two novels – "The Twenty-Seventh City" and "Strong Motion" – had no foretaste of the electrical blitz that was to be unleashed by "The Corrections." And her first three – "The Patron Saint of Liars," "Taft," and "The Magician’s Assistant," and – got only a drizzle of attention compared to the sensational "Bel Canto." “Before Bel Canto,” wrote John Updike in the New Yorker, “she had been admired but obscure, a veteran of academic postings and the grant wars.”