The saga of Jonathan Franzen’s stolen glasses has come to its appropriate end: the man who took the Freedom author’s glasses hostage Monday night has come forward and identified himself. James Fletcher, a 27-year-old student at Imperial College London, detailed the full narrative of his eyewear-snatching to GQ UK, and the tale he shares comes complete with intrigue, danger, and a high-concept justification of the act as art. What more could you want?
The entire operation is indebted to the same things that inspire so many other feats of derring-do: boredom, excessive champagne, and an overwhelming infatuation with another man’s spectacles. Inspired by all three, Fletcher scrawled a ransom note with a pen from the bar, and in the midst of some distracting chatter, nicked the glasses from Franzen’s face.
Then, the chase began.
After a few seconds I was already escaping through muddy grass and over sharp metal fences. I thought my freedom had been earned and held my prize in the air shouting and laughing with joy until I realised how many members of the security team wanted them back and, perhaps more importantly, to teach me not to damage their reputation as I felt I’d done. I ran towards the Serpentine Lake – my only route. As I approached it, senselessly and at some speed, I decided to cut through it and I dismantled my BlackBerry so that the circuits wouldn’t short. I then ran into the water, wading quickly though the lake along the bank and into thick vegetation. I realised that the copy of Franzen’s book that I’d helped myself to was also floating away and I eventually found myself almost shoulder-deep in the water under the branch of a tree, where I stayed for some time.
Just picture the copy of Freedom, a casualty of the heist, floating slowly away from the our hero-culprit. Priceless.
When the helicopters came, Fletcher was as surprised as any sensible human being would have been — “An airborne vehicle with infrared capabilities to track a suspect who’d stolen a pair of glasses?” — but he was on the lam, so he wouldn’t let this total absurdity faze him. He treated the whole incident like the frivolity that it was, and when he was caught he even congratulated the officer on his work.
To his credit, the usually super-serious Franzen seems to be taking the whole ordeal in good spirits. He told NPR yesterday that he would not be pressing charges against Fletcher, and insisted he kept his cool while representatives from the publisher were freaking the fuck out. “I’ve been laughing about the whole thing,” the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying on NPR, “and observing the anguish secondhand.”
Fletcher also wanted to make it clear that he has no malice toward Franzen. In fact, he stole the glasses out of admiration. “He is one of the most talented writers out there and I have the utmost respect for the man,” he said of the novelist.
To some people, it seems, holding a pair of glasses hostage is the highest form of flattery.