Jonathan Franzen Is Fine With All of It

Taffy Brodesser-Akner in The New York Times:

Jonathan Franzen now lives in a humble, perfectly nice two-story house in Santa Cruz, Calif., on a street that looks exactly like a lot of other streets in America and that, save for a few cosmetic choices, looks exactly like every other house on the block. Santa Cruz, he says, is a “little pocket of the ’70s that persisted.” Inside his house, there is art of birds — paintings and drawings and figurines. Outside, in the back, there are actual birds, and a small patio, with a four-person wrought-iron dining set, and beyond that, a shock: a vast, deep ravine, which you would never guess existed behind the homes on such a same-looking street, but there it is. There is so much depth and flora to it, so much nature, so many birds — whose species Franzen names as they whiz by our faces — that you almost don’t notice the ocean beyond.

He had been reluctant to move here. He played a game of chicken with the woman he calls his “spouse equivalent” (“I hate the word ‘partner’ so much”), the writer Kathryn Chetkovich, telling her that he would never live here and that she should instead move to New York, where he was living in the Yorkville section of the Upper East Side. He still keeps an apartment there. He doesn’t miss Yorkville, which he calls the “last middle-class neighborhood in Manhattan,” though he’s pretty sure the new Second Avenue subway will change all that. Things were changing so fast as it was. The stores he loved kept closing. His favorite produce market, owned by a nice Greek couple, had been supplanted by a bank, and the Food Emporium he reluctantly shopped at became a Gristedes that resembled a Soviet-era rations market. But where are you going to live? The Upper West Side? Best of luck. Each east-west block is nearly a quarter of a mile. “You need to bring a pup tent if you’re walking between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. It’s like, ‘Bring supplies!’ ”

It’s a different world here in Santa Cruz, an easier place to seclude yourself, to find some anonymity. You can interact on your own terms. Franzen and Chetkovich play mixed doubles with their friends and host game nights. They work out with a trainer named Jason twice a week, who was in a truly open adoption in the 1980s, a time when that was almost unheard-of in this country, which Franzen finds very interesting. Jason administers a workout that is “terrible,” though Franzen, who is 58, has grown to love it: push presses, 400-meter flat-out rowing. He likes to fool around on the guitar that sits in a cradle in the living room, “a better guitar than my advanced beginner status deserves,” trying to learn Chuck Berry and Neil Young songs from YouTube demos.

More here.