There’s nothing I love more than a good literary scandal. It’s so deliciously incongruous. Book people are supposed to be quiet and reasonable and wear prescription glasses. So when the literati goes nuts, for me, it’s about as hilarious as the Marx Brothers guest-starring in an episode of I Love Lucy and in that episode there are about eighty-seven instances of pies in the face and a hundred and twelve pratfalls, which is to say, crazy-hilarious and nuts-awesome.
One of my favorite literary scandals happened last autumn when Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was published. It was the big literary bestseller of 2010. Oprah announced the novel as her book club pick even though Franzen had made frenemies with her a decade earlier when he had dismissed her selection of his previous novel The Corrections. Franzen got his mug on the cover of TIME magazine. Life was great.
And then Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner got on Twitter and coined the term “Franzenfreude,” a word that conveyed the annoyance of these bestselling female authors who write in the same sphere of Franzen’s Freedom (that is to say, suburban life and domestic problems) and have yet to see their pretty faces on TIME magazine, much less see a review of one of their works in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Before PicoutWeinerGate, Franzen’s work had “Great American Novel” buzz swirling around it. Afterwards, he was basically the president of the He-Man Woman Haters Club. All this without the author so much as publicly commenting on the Twitter hashtag. Or at least, any public commentary that I could find, if you are a more proficient Googler than I am, please share your findings in comment section below.
So when Jeffrey Eugenides, of Virgin Suicides and Pulitzer-Prize-winning Middlesex fame got his own Freedom-like fanfare this fall with The Marriage Plot, a novel set in the early eighties that follows Madeline, a bibliophile just out college in a love triangle with two sexy-handsome also just-out-of-college dudes, I thought I was going to hear so much mishigas.
(Mishigas is Jewish for “psycho-nuts-whoa-craziness”)
Eugenides was definitely in female-bestselling-author territory with his subject matter. And he one-upped his real-life-amigo Franzen by getting a billboard in Times Freaking Square. It is important to note that this is no ordinary billboard, but instead the silliest billboard in the history of ever.
So I’m waiting and waiting and waiting for my mishigas. And… there’s no mishigas.
What gives? Where’s my literary knock-down drag-out? How come a situation that so closely mirrors last year’s Franzen-bashing barely registered on the Book Scandal Richter Scale?
Let’s come up with some really good theories in the comments section. Bonus points if your theory includes the phrases “mass hypnosis,” “evil alien race that is really good at writing novels,” and “x-ray laser space guns.”