|Grantham's Landing, late December|
Meantime he transports the reader to East Germany before the wall came down. The dirty dealings of the Stasi, the cold greyness you can feel. Then Bolivia, where a charismatic former East German is directing a wikileak-like organization. These places and periods allow him to comment on the times, directly, by comparing the paltriness of life in East Germany to the paltriness of a life whose worth is measured by "likes" and "hits." And indirectly, through dialogue and detail. In the grand old tradition of serious American novelists, he teaches as he entertains with a complex story, unique characters, and wickedly vivid scenes.
Besides brilliance, an achievment like this takes time. No wonder Franzen rails against some aspects of the internet. E-bookworld lore includes the advice to publish often. A young woman writer I met in the fall felt the pressure of continuing to provide new content. To get her career going, her aim was to publish two books a year. That's a newer tradition, and time will test it. The girl admitted that while she respects literary fiction and is a graduate of an established creative writing program, she wants a career, ie, to make money, to be known, to be invited places.
Franzen enjoys all the benefits that young writer craves, but, in my mind, he didn't start with her goals. Instead, as Dostoyevsky thought writers should do, he engages in a dialogue with our times. He builds his fictional world meticulously and at a pace that allows full development, because, unlike in the sphere of emoticons, as he was quoted saying, ...“it takes 600 pages to convey emotion.”