the franz


For the most part Franzen writes as if literary modernism and experimental postmodernism had never occurred. All four of his novels, including the new one, are somewhat loose and baggy, and they contain an easygoing and warm attention to the complexities of human character. Reality-as-given is for these books an endlessly renewable resource. There is no “relentless investigation into the possibilities of form,” to use a phrase from Gilbert Sorrentino to describe the avant-garde.3 However, Franzen’s books do address sizable cultural events. Strong Motion is in the honorable category of eco-catastrophe fiction. The Corrections has several subplots having to do with clinical depression, biotechnology, and the recapitalization of Eastern Europe. The subplots of Freedom include species extinction, mountaintop removal used in West Virginia coal mining, overpopulation, and private-sector subcontracts for the Iraq war. The personal is invariably sutured to the social, but the personal—the portrait of Enid Lambert, the mother in The Corrections, for example—is what generally remains most memorable in these books. Franzen is a writer of great patience. This is his glory and his curse. Like Arnold Bennett and any number of other nineteenth-century English and Russian novelists, he has the voluptuary’s interest in physical details, and he takes his time in describing them.

more from Charles Baxter at the NYRB here.