I have finally read Jonathan Franzen's celebrated The Corrections, and since I find the whole concept of Jonathan Franzen really annoying, I'm sorry to say I liked it a lot. I'm also glad I didn't read it when the book's initial post-9/11 excitement balloon was still aloft. (We should thank Franzen and Oprah for generating the first goofy news story with enough energy to pierce that autumn's gloom of anthrax and mass murder.) Although The Corrections was lauded at the time as a searing depiction of contemporary life, it now reads like a eulogy to a vanished age. Many of the book's social and cultural topics are still with us, but they come at you now as remnants of days gone by. Mass marketing of prescription drugs, the explosion of hipster "foodie" restaurants, senior care choice anxiety, the upscaling of provincial tastes (a topic David Brooks lost most of his hair pondering), dotcom lunacy, globalization in Eastern Europe, the emptying out of the midwest, campus sexual harassment codes, the oracular public language of the Wired age, the post-Soviet circus: They might as well be talking about life back at Brideshead. Could anything scream "Clinton era" more than a plotline involving privatization in Lithuania?
All of which should be seen as a recommendation, not a condemnation. Any book that deals with my own favorite theme—the death of the nineties—already has an advantage as far as I'm concerned, and as an encapsulation of that era it's a damn sight better than any of the attempts that were made at the time.
Interestingly, I don't think anything in the past three years is a contender to become the lasting post-9/11 document. You may remember the moment when Bruce Springsteen's The Rising was being touted for that honor, but as Brian Doherty accurately predicted, that record's excitement proved, unlike the pain of 9/11, to be of mercifully brief duration.