Sometime I feel the need to break away from the horror genre. Let's face it: A lot of the stuff we read isn't exactly fine literature. That's all right. I don't mind junk books. I sometimes like junk food, too.

I grew up reading reprints of pulp SF that was cranked out at a penny or two a word. I re-read it now and then, and while I will always have affection for the material, I see the warts now.

To me, a lot of the things in the genre being praised to the heavens are merely average. I find myself wishing for more.

Sure, there's Peter Straub. Harlan Ellison, at his best, ranks with any writer, anywhere. Same with Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Tessier, Ray Russell. I'd add Dan Chaon to the list.

I long for the joy I felt when I discovered the fiction of John Irving or Paul Theroux. Sometimes I look toward the critically acclaimed writers to see if I get the same kind of experience.

I read a Richard Russo, and I liked it well enough, and I may read him again. I like Anne Tyler.

I've heard many good things about Jonathan Franzen. He's a critical darling. His latest novel, Crossroads, sounded like the kind of book I would love. A story of a family in crisis that takes place in the 1970s. So I placed a hold on it with my trusty local library.

I started Crossroads and it immediately turned me off. Check out this laborious opening sentence:

The sky broken by the bare oaks and elms of New Prospect was full of moist promise, a pair of frontal systems grayly colluding to deliver a white Christmas, when Russ Hiledbrandt made his morning rounds among the homes of bedridden and senile parishioners in his Plymouth Fury wagon.

I read a few pages of sentences like that. It felt like Franzen was showing off, but he comes off to me like a stuffy academic trying to shame a bunch of undergrads. I haven't read such pretentious codswallow since I attempted to get through a collection of early Alexander Theroux short stories.

I'll keep looking, but Jonathan Franzen is off the list.

Written by Mark Sieber

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