The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen [7/10]

Jonathan Franzen is as brilliant an essayist as novelist, and “The End of the End of Earth” collects fifteen essays, mostly, he tells us, from the last half decade. Franzen speaks deepest to me when he describes himself birding, and in “Why birds matter,” he is in full stylistic flight. In that essay, he asks about “our ability to discern right from wrong”: “Doesn’t a unique ability carry with it a unique responsibility?” He slams the bird-decimating “sinkholes” of Albania and Egypt in another essay. The title piece evokes an Antarctic trip conflated with memories of his deceased godfather. Franzen is angry, discerning, and intelligent, and I’d love to say the entire collection is as spellbinding as its peaks. But the major essays sit slightly oddly among odd short essays, book reviews, and appreciations of Edith Wharton and William Vollmann. Overall, this is a deft, if often kinetic collection that readily kills an evening of boredom.

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