Best Defense

Is Franzen correct on Amarillo, Texas, and how the rest of the world sees us?

Jonathan Franzen strikes me as a bit of a crank, but I keep reading his novels because I enjoy his writing.

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Jonathan Franzen strikes me as a bit of a crank, but I keep reading his novels because I enjoy his writing. Here is his take on Amarillo, Texas, from his new book, Purity:

Every facet of Amarillo a testament to a nation of bad-ass firsts: first in prison population, first in meat consumption, first in operational strategic warheads, first in per-capita carbon emissions, first in line for the Rapture. Whether American liberals liked it or not, Amarillo was how the rest of the world saw their country.

Now, Franzen may be a member of the German Akademie der Kunste and the French Order des Arts and Lettres, but I still suspect that the average Best Defense reader has a better idea of how the world sees America. On the other hand, he is one of our most skilled crafters of narrative, which many military strategists in recent years have declared important, even though they don’t know much about it.

So do you think he is right?

P.S. — On page 485 of Purity, he uses a word he apparently invented, “antenimbusian.” I like it. I take it to mean “pre-cloud,” as in the pre-digital era. The older I get the more I feel it that I am a member of that last cohort of troglodytes educated before the Internet era. I also like that Franzen made up that word. In every book I write I try to include one word I’ve invented. It is like adding a tiny brick to the edifice of language.

Photo credit: Richie Diesterheft/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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