Growing Up Franzen

Paul Montgomery

Staff Writer

In addition to comics, Paul thrills to Frank Capra and kaiju movies, crime fiction, TV dramas, professional wrestling, and whatever the Muppets are doing at any given time (hopefully in combination with those other things). He tweets as @fuzzytypewriter

This morning I learned of an old friend’s misguided plan to connect with an audience he’d never understood. Jonathan, it seemed, had expressed an interest in adopting an Iraqi orphan for the purposes of observation and study, to come to grips with the anger and cynicism of youth. His editor advised against this. The whole of the Fertile Crescent sighed.

My mind raced. I couldn’t help it. It’s a terrible revelation of a terrible idea that gladly never came to fruition (Franzition?). To embark on something as demanding and potentially perilous as parenthood for purely academic reasons? It’s repugnant. Legitimately vile.

But I’d be lying if I said it had little dramatic or comedic value as an August morning’s daydream. It’s positively goddamn Wodehouse.

I pondered the ramifications of growing up Franzen in a reality where an editor had not intervened. What would it be like to lose a family and gain a disaffected novelist? I mused on the long-suffering editor tasked with keeping Franzen away from the basket, tactfully dodging invitations to pad after osprey and cuckoo on the weekend, talking down pitches for orphan-sized habit trails. I considered the writer himself and the pursuit of human understanding. Why not become a Big Brother at a local rec center? Why not establish a summer camp? Why not go to a screening of Minions? Or perhaps he did and that’s why he requires further intel. Why Franzen?

It didn’t take long to realize this was a play.

And so I dust off a seven-year-old playwriting degree and begin to take down ideas for the inevitable Kickstarter or grant. Maybe Riot will spring for it. Maybe I’ll host a reading at Book Riot Live with ascots and cardigans. Paul Kinsey to the nines. Research for funding will come later. First we need a script.

“Growing Up Franzen,” we’ll call it. A two-man play about a father and reluctant son. No, we’re forgetting an important piece of the puzzle. The Editor. I can play the part. I haven’t acted since a community theater production of “Dear Ruth” in my early 20s, but The Editor only needs to memorize variations on a single line. A plea, really. “Jonathan, no.”

Brent Spiner will play the writer. I don’t know him yet. But this is a golden era and Twitter is real, despite our friend the writer and his protests. But even he, it seems, is willing to learn. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? A need to understand and empathize, or at least harness the social media generation?

Good cripes, it’s a musical. It is, isn’t it?

For the orphan, a plaintive refrain to encapsulate the drudgery of growing up the Franzen way. ”I Don’t Care What Kind of Bird It Is, Father.” It will be playful like “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd, but instaid of canibalistic puns, it’s just a bunch of birds.

For the writer, something like ”Why Tweet? (reprise).” And if there’s a reprise, there should probably also be one that comes some time before that called “Why Tweet?”

I can hear Brent Spiner and David Hyde Pierce as the Writer and the Editor, sparring musically.

“I’d teach him all the birds.”

“Jonathan, this sounds absurd.”

“He’d teach me how to text! I won’t be so perplex’d.”

“Jonathan, I must object.”

Getting a little fast and loose with the rhyme scheme there, but there’s time.

“We’d fly a long-tailed kite.”

“Jonathan no.”

“I’d ask him questions under a light.”

“Jonathan no, that’s in-ter-o-ga-tion.”

“I’d finally have a buddy.”

“More like a character study.”

“Get the papers and I’ll sign.”

“I think they may decline.”

“And no need for some old spouse.”


“More time to look at grouse.”

“Jonathan, no.”

I think this one’s called, “Jonathan, no.” It’d be reprised a lot. I’m not sure how many times that’s allowed, but they do say “Sunday” and “Rent” and “Grease” a bunch in those other musicals. And he probably has to say it a lot in real life, too.

“Fatherhood’d do me good. Less birds, more son.”

“Jonathan, no.”

“I’d be happy. I’d be informed.”

“Jonathan, no.”

“Less disenFranzenchised.”

That’d be a neat shirt.