Divine Indigestion

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Today, if a novel is accepted into the American canon, it is as a masterpiece of individualism that subsumes material and social being into the spirit of a lone genius. If a social world is present in a novel of repute, our critics gobble it up and excrete it as imagination. In the early twenty-first century, realism has come to be synonymous, in the blinkered American critical consensus, with a curiously antisocial novel. It never occurs to critics that realism could only seem real because of the dilapidation of collective dreams. Nor do critics worry that the “social issues” presented in our novels rarely attain the complexity of cable television. Or that a novel genuinely concerned with social life (or even the social role of a single person) could itself, against this backdrop, be idiosyncratic. It’s sad, in other words, that the novels of Jonathan Franzen register to most as sociopolitical literature. Freedom isn’t a social novel on the level of Wharton. It’s a decelerated twenty-four-hour news channel.

Jonathon Sturgeon

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