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Franzen wrote excellent essays years back. Now they seem strangely confused, a unbalanced raw mix of objective information and very personal emotions, unstructured and hard to follow and to interpret. A lack of imagination, wit. Most topics are not of interest to the general (European) reader. Otherwise, a lot on bird watching. But he has written better about his hobby in earlier publications. Quite disappointing.
Jonathan Franzen is often caricatured as an angry man. Angry at conservatives for ignoring humankind’s devastation of the planet and angry at liberals for their smug feeling of moral superiority despite few tangible accomplishments.
However, there is very little anger in The End of the End of the Earth. Instead there is, if not despair, at least a bleak feeling of unstoppable loss permeating the text. Franzen devotes relatively few pages to criticizing Trump and his ilk and instead chooses to focus on his practical ethic of small concrete actions that can be done to preserve what is still good.
For Franzen himself, this is largely dedicated to efforts to preserve the world’s avian wildlife. But mixed in with it are portraits of other individuals defying the Facebook image conscious world by making meaningful human relationships, creating photographic portraits which convey a real sense of the person and, defying the omnipresence of Tweets, writing essays like those in this book that go to the pith of the matter.
Lest you harbor any illusions, the end of the end of the earth is not a new hopeful beginning but a description of the environmental havoc being wreaked in Antarctica (which Franzen aptly refers to as the end of the earth). Instead, what Franzen offers the reader is a vision of the need to do concrete good in a world and biosphere constantly falling into greater entropy.
I doubt this vision will much capture the attention of the American public when there are so many more vapid messages being shouted from megaphones. But that doesn’t make it less sincere or less important. If all that we have at the beginning of the twenty-first century is to ground ourselves in the concrete good before a coming ecological catastrophe it is more than a message of unmitigated despair.
Franzen should be commended for not deploying his artistic talent in the service of the left’s agenda but choosing to articulate his unique vision, popular or not. Highly recommended for those who are able to at least sympathize with such a bleak account of our civilization and planet.
Really, I don't know that I've ever before teared up reading essays. I love most of Franzen's writing, and this book exceeds expectations. I feel as though we've been waiting for these essays to help us cope with the horrors of climate change and the accompanying existential crisis. And now that the frigging midterms are over, I can find a nature conservancy group to join. Thank you, Jonathan.