a bad dream from the grandparental past

“To read “The Man Who Loved Children” would be an especially frivolous use of your time, since, even by novelistic standards, it’s about nothing of world-historical consequence. It’s about a family, and a very extreme and singular family at that, and the few parts of it that aren’t about this family are the least compelling parts. The novel is also rather long, sometimes repetitious and undeniably slow in the middle. It requires you, moreover, to learn to read the family’s private language, a language created and imposed by the eponymous father, and though the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as with Joyce or Faulkner, you’re still basically being asked to learn a language good for absolutely nothing but enjoying this one particular book.

Even the word “enjoying”: is that the right word? Although its prose ranges from good to fabulously good — is lyrical in the true sense, every observation and description bursting with feeling, meaning, subjectivity — and although its plotting is unobtrusively masterly, the book operates at a pitch of psychological violence that makes “Revolutionary Road” look like “Everybody Loves Raymond.” And, worse yet, can never stop laughing at that violence! Who needs to read this kind of thing? […] The book intrudes on our better-regulated world like a bad dream from the grandparental past. Its idea of a happy ending is like no other novel’s, and probably not at all like yours.

And then there’s your e-mail: shouldn’t you be dealing with your e-mail?”

Jonathan Franzen in the NYT on Christina Stead’s 1940 novel, The Man Who Loved Children.