Violating the contract

In his essay “Mr. Difficult,” [Jonathan] Franzen presents two models of how fiction and readers relate: the Status and Contract models. The Status model says that “the best novels are great works of art, the people who manage to write them deserve extraordinary credit, and if the average reader rejects the work it’s because the average reader is a philistine.” The Contract model says, “difficulty is a sign of trouble. In the most grievous cases, it may convict an author of violating the contract with his own community; of placing his self-expressive imperatives or his personal vanity or his literary-club membership ahead of the audience’s legitimate desire for connection—of being, in other words, an asshole.”

Scott F. Parker

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