"Agreeable"
by Jonathan Franzen
Originally published in the May 31, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

Click for a larger image.

I really liked this story from its first, strange paragraph — which leads to this nice line, “Patty grew up in Westchester County, New York. She was the oldest of four children, the other three of whom were more like what her parents had been hoping for.” — to the sad last paragraph.

Patty is a female athlete, much to her parents’ confusion. She’s competitive, aggressive, and very successful, though no one really recognizes it. Her mother is a politician, always trying to fight for justice; her father is an attorney who “bought the right to be privately eccentric by doing good public legal works.” Franzen’s descriptions of this family and of Patty’s demeanor is fascinating in its two pages. Then the story goes to this:

As far as actual sex goes, Patty’s first experience of it was being raped at a party when she was seventeen by a boarding-school senior named Ethan Post.

Some might object to the tone, but I find Franzen’s choice here to fit well with the story’s overall effect. I imagine rape is a difficult topic to write about, but I found Franzen’s story to be full of observations that are important to showing the ironies and hypocrisies that surround us.

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By |2016-06-09T17:44:34-04:00May 25th, 2010|Categories: Jonathan Franzen, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett May 25, 2010 at 10:45 am

    New fiction forum up.

  2. KevinfromCanada May 25, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I am one of those readers who quite liked The Corrections. While I don’t think it is a great novel — and can appreciate the views of those who do not like it — I found it highly readable, with many cogent observations.

    And I like this story, subject to the same qualifications. One of the things that I think Franzen does very well is contemplate the screwed-up order of things and ponder why that takes place.

    The major event of this story should be the rape of Patty but for every character, including her, it becomes secondary — it challenges what they stand for, but everyone finds a way to leverage the disgrace to support their going-in bias. The coach wants to exploit it, her parents want to find a way around it, the perpetrator’s parents want to deny it ever happened. As for Patty, the physical effects were not much more than a rough game (Ethan did wear a condom, after all) and, while she moves into a more involved mode for a while, she retreats quickly in face of the social pressures around her.

    I think that is a fair set of observations, delivered in more than adequate prose. Critics of Franzen say he is glib and obvious and those criticisms could certainly be applied to this story. I’m willing to go with his flow — I thought it was quite good.

  3. Lee Monks May 26, 2010 at 3:51 am

    I think Franzen gets a bit of a bum rap. I thought, as you did, Kevin, that it was considerably ‘clairvoyant’ (to pinch Bellow’s term) about family, society, the parameters and gradations of inter-relationships amongst those that know each other too well etc and I thought it was a tight, admirable effort.

  4. Trevor Berrett June 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I’m with you, Kevin. I liked this story a lot, and it has indeed convinced me that I should pull down my copy of The Corrections for a read — finally. I really liked Franzen’s story last year too. I heard these are both excerpts from his new novel, though I’m at a loss to figure out how they might go together.

    Also, this is one of the exceptions to my bias against excertps being published in place of genuine short stories. This was presented nicely.

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