I was both amused and bemused to note that Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, is rather predictably being touted as the Great American Novel.
Let’s face it, we’ve all read read the Great American Novel. It was Moby Dick or it was The Great Gatsby or it was Citizen Kane or it was The Catcher in the Rye or it was Catch-22 or it was Gravity’s Rainbow or it was … or it was …
There are any number of Great American Novels, and no Great American Novels. Because as soon as we identify one Great American Novel, we start looking around for the real one to come along.
What’s with you people? We don’t have a Great British Novel – I have no idea what a Great British Novel might possibly look like. We don’t have a Great French Novel or a Great German Novel or a Great Japanese Novel. So why does American exceptionalism demand one novel that is somehow big enough (I feel Great relates to compass rather than quality) to encompass all that is America? What would a Great American Novel be? And why isn’t it enough to know that you have a whole load of great novels that just happen to be American?