Jonathan Franzen Wanted To Adopt A Child For The Most Self-Indulgent Reason Ever

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BookExpo America 2015Adoption is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It is not, however, a cool literary trick through which a grumpy old writer acquires a magical orphan to teach him about humanity. Jonathan Franzen was apparently confused about that fact, because he thought it was a great idea to acquire an “Iraqi war orphan” to teach him about young people. Thank God his editor put a stop to it.

Any writer knows that a good editor is the most valuable thing in the world, and Franzen’s has earned himself a position among the greats. Sure, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor came up with the title for The Great Gatsby, but that’s just peanuts compared with New Yorker editor Henry Finder, who stopped Jonathan Franzen from going out and adopting children for literary material.

According to The Guardian, Franzen was angry at Millennials. While most grumpy, aging members of Gen X who find themselves hating on Millennials–with their selfies and entitlement and crushing student loan debt and anxiety over ever being able to own a home or retire–can just deal by re-watching Reality Bites or writing an angry personal essay, Franzen thought maybe the solution was to adopt a child. Not just any child, either. Franzen wanted “an Iraqi war orphan,” which Franzen felt could help him understand why young people were all out there being young the wrong way.

“One of the things that had put me in mind of adoption,” he said, “was a sense of alienation from the younger generation. They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me.”

So Franzen said he seriously considered adopting “an Iraqi war orphan to help him understand young people better.” That’s just the worst and most self-indulgent idea a person has ever had. Now even Franzen admits that it was a terrible, terrible idea.

“Oh, it was insane,” he said. “The idea that Kathy [his partner] and I were going to adopt an Iraqi war orphan. The whole idea lasted maybe six weeks.”

Thankfully, New Yorker editor Henry Finder stepped up and derailed Franzen’s crackpot orphan-collecting plan by suggesting that the novelist’s whole existential dilemma could be solved by talking to some actual young people. Somehow it worked. Franzen said talking to some recent college grads, “cured [him] of [his] anger at young people,” and allowed him to shelve his terribly stupid idea of collecting some children to help with his creative process.

  One adopts a child because one wants to parent and love a human being and help them become a happy, well-adjusted adult. One does not adopt a child “to understand young people better.” It is as though he forgot that children are people. 

So let’s all hug our children–who are human beings and not literary devices–and thank God for Henry Finder and his magical un-Franzening powers.

(Photo: Getty Images/FilmMagic/Brent N. Clarke)