Correctamundo

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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.

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  1. I haven’t read The Corrections, but I think the late-’90s sections of Cryptonomicon are a good evocation of the age.

    Any other nominations?

  2. well there’s the first chapter of rushdie’s _fury_. granted, i haven’t finished it.

  3. I’ve had The Corrections since it came out, but have yet to read it. And now may never do so because he wrote a terrible essay called “Books in Bed” (it’s in his essay collection How To Be Alone all about how writing about sex is so unnecessary. Why? Because “every orgasm is more or less the same.” Okay…now I really want to read your novel. But maybe someday I’ll get to it, along with Look At Me, which I also have in hardcover from around that time.

    This look at his author photo is pretty funny.

  4. I can’t wait for someone to tell me what life is like post-911.

  5. Interestingly, I don’t think anything in the past three years is a contender to become the lasting post-9/11 document.

    25th Hour would be if anyone had seen it.

  6. Some things take a while to digest. Only with some perspective will it possible to create, or recognize, a definitive post-911 document.

  7. “I haven’t read The Corrections, but I think the late-’90s sections of Cryptonomicon are a good evocation of the age.

    Any other nominations?”

    Po Bronson’s books.
    Zeitgeist – Bruce Strerling.

    And Michel Houllebecq’s books, if you can stand him.

  8. Agreed on the 25th Hour, which I saw in an empty theater. As far as I know it’s the only movie, and in fact the only anything, that made a real effort to get the atmosphere of post-9/11 New York; all that stuff was really moving. More so because the actual plot of the movie had nothing to do with 9/11.

  9. Damn-beat me to nominating Crytonomicon–I recently picked it up a re-read a bit of it and it already felt a bit like historical fiction (which, as it happens, is what Stephenson is writing now).

  10. I don’t know, Franzen kind of sounds like a modern day Alan Leluchuk.

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