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Jonathan Franzen

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‘The Corrections’, the novel that brought fame to Jonathan Franzen is a family drama of the Lambert family and their trials and tribulations. It was selected as an Ophra Book Club book and Franzen was invited as a guest on the show. However, before the show could be recorded, Franzen began to have misgivings about being labeled as a ‘women’s writer’ simply because his book had made it on Ophra. He made the mistake of expressing his misgivings and Ophra promptly uninvited him. Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding the incident worked as a publicity booster and the novel made it big; winning for the writer the National Book Award.

Franzen’s works look at life and the way we live it. He talks about themes such as the transmission of family dysfunctioning over the generations. This concept is well depicted in The Corrections. The younger members of the family leave home for more inviting climes but end up dysfunctional in their environments. They return home for the family holiday season and face up to their lives and the dysfunctional elements that need to be corrected.

Franzen has a way of exposing the waste that has become a lifestyle in our materialistic consumer society and economy. The need for people to constantly upgrade technology and devices upsets him. Though he is tech savvy himself, certain aspects of technology ruling over modern lifestyles is rather unappealing for him. He offers ideas and opinions on how technology and its various forms are an invasion despite the fact that they are useful tools. For example, in an article he wrote for Technology Review, an MIT publication, he bemoans the fact that the cell phone is a much overused facility that encroaches on public space and forces people, complete strangers, to audibly witness fond messages to loved ones. He feels it is an intrusion on private and personal life that is forced on people who prefer to be private and who wish to remain uniformed about the relatively private matters of total strangers.

Franzen tends to offer opinions freely; opinions on everything – from the way people live to the current social networking sites. However, he is not anti-technology. He is rather thrilled with some of the facilities and conveniences that technology offers. But he does insist that technology is moving too fast and before he can catch up with it, it has changed. The worst part is that people don’t even allow him the right to complain about the quick changes that he is struggling to harness and control. He claims that technological advancement and devices have made people rather distant and indifferent to the world around them.

Media too, in his opinion, creates vivid emotional stirrings. Comparing the 9/11 tragedy to others, like Pearl Harbor, he opines that media exposure sensationalized the event to the extent of arousing grief that turned to pure anguish for the entire nation, resulting in outbursts that were rather melodramatic. He says, “I can’t help blaming media technology for the national foregrounding of the personal. Unlike in, say, 1941, when the United States responded to a terrible attack with collective resolve and discipline and sacrifice,…..” He goes on to elaborate the fall out the ‘live’ digital detailing had on events post 9/11.

The Observer released in January 2011, a list of “….20 activists, filmmakers, writers, politicians and celebrities who will be setting the global environmental agenda in the coming year…..” and Franzen is on the list.

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