David L. Ulin at the LA Times:
How, the novel asks, do we make sense of an era in which information has become a burden? “Like the old politburos,” Franzen observes, “the new politburo styled itself as the enemy of the elite and friend to the masses, dedicated to giving consumers what they wanted, but to Andreas … it seemed as if the Internet was governed more by fear: the fear of unpopularity and uncoolness, the fear of missing out.”
That this is anathema to his characters should go without saying; a deep loneliness pervades the book. Sometimes, the loneliness is shared, as in Tom's relationship with Anabel, who restricts herself until they are a miserable society of two. Sometimes, it is cultural, as when Purity, or Pip, as she is known, goes to work for Andreas, only to find herself surrounded by true believers, as if his mission were a source of faith.
Always, there are bad mothers (the bad mother is a staple of Franzen's fiction): Andreas', Purity's, Tom's. “He watched as a strange thing happened in her face,” Franzen writes about the first of these women, “a subtle but crazy-looking modulation of expressions, some interior struggle made visible — her fantasy of being a loving mother, her resentment at the bother of it.” The description brings to mind Enid Lambert, the damaged matriarch of “The Corrections,” and her struggles with the children she by turns torments and loves.