Jonathan Franzen: ‘I just write it like I see it and that gets me in trouble’
It is 11AM Pacific time and Jonathan Franzen has just turned on the light. “Special occasion,” he says drily of our video call. A sliver of sunshine dares to creep under the venetian blind at the window. “I’m vampiric for the first six hours of the day. I do not like bright light,” he says. “Also, if I had the blinds open there would be birds and they would distract.” Franzen likes birds, a lot.
Five years ago he gave up his studio office on New York’s 125th Street for this monastically bare room in Santa Cruz university. He has spent part of each year here since he met his partner, writer Kathy Chetkovich, “the Californian” of his essays, in 1998. But after “a massive tug of war”, they moved here permanently so she could be closer to her elderly mother. “It was a war I was happy to lose, because I’d been in New York for 25 years and I’d had enough,” he says. “That season of my life was over.” He tried one autumn in New York without Chetkovich before realising it wasn’t going to work, “so I just threw in the towel, and now I’m a Californian”.