Franzen was referring, of course, to Pulitzer Prize-winning NYT book critic Michiko Kakutani, who had just blasted Franzen's memoir, "The Discomfort Zone."
In that review, Kakutani described the book as "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed."
At the Harvard appearance -- as reported at the time by the Harvard Crimson -- Franzen went on to say of Kakutani:
“The reviews tend to be repetitive and tend to be so filled with error that they’re kind of unbearable to read, even the nice ones,” Franzen said, according to the Crimson. “The most upsetting thing nowadays is the feeling that there’s no one out there responding intelligently to the text....So few people are actually doing serious criticism. It’s so snarky, it’s so ad hominum, it’s so black and white.”
So it was something of a surprise -- or maybe not -- to find Kakutani effusively praising Franzen's new novel, "Freedom," in this morning's NYT.
With a nod to her previous objections, Kakutani wrote:
In the past, Mr. Franzen tended to impose a seemingly cynical, mechanistic view of the world on his characters, threatening to turn them into authorial pawns subject to simple Freudian-Darwinian imperatives. This time, in creating conflicted, contrarian individuals capable of choosing their own fates, Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet — a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times.
Was Kakutani compromised by Franzen's earlier comments? Should she have been allowed to review the book, given his poisonous point of view? Or can a good critic learn to ignore these sorts of predictable broadsides from angry authors?
It certainly isn't the first time that a major novelist has gone after Kakutani. According to Edwin Diamond's 1995 NYT history, "Behind The Times," Norman Mailer once famously appealed to NYT editors to have her prevented from reviewing his books -- on the grounds that Mailer perceived a conflict of interest (read: dislike) regarding his work.
We've contacted Kakutani for comment, and will update when we hear from her. We're also seeking comment from Franzen, whose view of Kakutani has likely softened somewhat in recent