Geoff Dyer in The Observer:
I'd heard that the title essay of Jonathan Franzen's new collection was about his punishing experiences on a rough and tiny island. Some of what happened there is by now well known. The inhabitants of this island welcomed him by printing the wrong version of his novel Freedom, necessitating the pulping of its entire first print run. Then at the party – marked, as a consequence of this error, by the absence of the book it was intended to launch – a gatecrasher plucked Franzen's glasses from his face, ran off into the night and demanded a ransom of several thousand pounds. (He's blind as a mole without his specs, apparently; probably the result of having subjected his peepers to every page of William Gaddis's The Recognitions and about half of JR.)
When the plane lifted off from Heathrow, Franzen must have breathed a sigh of relief and said to himself that it would be a cold day in hell before he'd set foot on that loud-dump again. So I admired the courage it took to revisit the site of these serial traumas in print.
Except, it turns out, the essay is about another, less ferocious place: Más Afuera, the island way down in the South Pacific where Alexander Selkirk (the model for Robinson Crusoe) was a castaway. Franzen retreats there after months of promoting his book, armed with a tent, a copy of Defoe's novel and some of the ashes of his friend David Foster Wallace. Once installed on the island – installed in the sense of barely able to erect his tent – Franzen reflects on the ludicrousness of the endeavour (“I hadn't felt so homesick since, possibly, the last time I'd camped by myself”), the rise of the novel in the age of Defoe and on his “friendship of compare and contrast and (in a brotherly way) compete” with Wallace.