5. Jonathan Franzen: Anyone who really, sincerely loves Franzen’s writing has also probably really, sincerely told someone that “learn to code” was the solution to all their problems. The Corrections also contributed to the obsession with the literal and figurative “big book,” in which the size and weight of a novel directly equals its importance, a concept applied almost exclusively to novels by men.
Charlie always deals with it pragmatically, surgically; for someone who wants to write a book about the harassment of women, he is impressively clear-headed when it happens to someone he cares about. Even when he talks about his ex-girlfriend — the unwitting muse for his whole project — he tells the story anecdotally, casually. There’s no sense of anger; there’s no fury or resentment or frustration. It’s just something that happened to somebody else — something that fits a wider narrative, maybe, but distant. Removed. He doesn’t even see the contradiction in his outrage when I tell him my ex boyfriend based a novel around my life — he’s critical of that, but not when I ask him whether a woman scientist should be the one writing a book about women scientists. He seems so desperate to say something that he hasn’t taken the time to question whether or not it should be him saying it.
Why are we disbelieved? Why am I skeptical of women’s chatter? Why does my husband think I don’t smell gas? Later, in the same piece, Baldwin writes, “There was a moment, in time, and in this place, when my brother, or my mother, or my father, or my sister, had to convey to me, for example, the danger in which I was standing from the white man standing just behind me, and to convey this with a speed, and in a language, that the white man could not possibly understand, and that, indeed, he cannot understand, until today. He cannot afford to understand it. This understanding would reveal to him too much about himself, and smash that mirror before which he has been frozen for so long.” Maybe this is why we don’t believe women. If their experience is true, we can’t stand to see our role in it.