Jonathan Franzen came of age at the same time as the internet. But he and his peers are more 19th century than 21st, says Richard Beckby Richard Beck / April 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Jonathan Franzen is the most famous and influential writer of his generation—so why can’t he stop complaining?
By Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate, £16.99)
By Helen DeWitt (And Other Stories, published 1st October 2012)
Only five years ago, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Jeffrey Eugenides were seen as simply a group of middle-aged American novelists. In 2008, however, David Foster Wallace committed suicide. In the flood of eulogies, remembrances, and appreciations that followed, a new consensus rapidly emerged: Wallace and his peers, it was agreed, constituted an American literary generation. What Bellow, Updike, and Roth had been to America in the decades following the second world war, these writers were to America in the internet age.
It’s hard, though, to constitute a literary generation nowadays. YouTube, Twitter, blogs about cats—new entertainments come streaming over our wireless connections every day, and for the modern novelist these entertainments often have ominous undertones. “These cat photos are a little too funny,” he thinks. “How will anyone find the time to read my long book?” Wallace made entertainment itself the antagonist in his near-future dystopia, Infinite Jest. Eugenides, in his recent novel The Marriage Plot, takes postmodern literary theory as an object of suspicion: why can’t we just enjoy a good old novel with an intricate plot?