A year ago, The New Yorker published a story by Jonathan Franzen called “Good Neighbors,” which I discussed here. I rather liked the story, and even thought it had a good story structure. It turns out, though, that that story was an excerpt from Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, which comes out in September.
The reason I looked into that old story and the novel is that I suspected this new story, “Agreeable,” might be an excerpt. It begins with a lot of exposition, as if the author needs to fill the reader in on what happened before the beginning of the chunk of the story that he wants to have fun with. And the ending of the story also seems somewhat weak, as if anticipating a greater resolution of the conflict that we’d expect in a novel.
And, indeed, there is a connection. This new “story” provides the background about Patty, the suburban wife we meet in the excerpt from last year. But unlike last year’s story, this one doesn’t stand well on its own.
As an excerpt, it’s okay, I suppose. As a story, I don’t much like it. There’s the early exposition, and then there’s the somewhat familiar date rape in which the victim is left to deal with her problem without parental support. Here, Patty is raped by the son of a wealthy connection to Patty’s parents, and so they convince her to drop the matter. It’s almost unbelievable that parents would do that, but Franzen has created characters for whom it’s credible. In the aftermath of their weakness, Patty becomes stronger–in an angry, aggressive way. But we don’t really see who she becomes or what her parents’ decision has done to her.
For that, you have to look back a year, to the earlier “excerpt”–or forward a couple of months to the novel.
May 31, 2010: “Agreeable” by Jonathan Franzen