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Jonathan Franzen has benefited enormously from the fact that his competition for great American author have all, in one sense or another, abandoned the ring. That’s okay, it’s not his fault, but he could at least be grateful and gracious, as opposed to taking jabs at those no longer around to defend themselves. In his recent Paris Review interview, he says of David Foster Wallace, “I think that Dave, up to the time when he stopped writing, was still struggling with his distrust of the part of himself that wanted to please people.” And then: “His instinct was to keep people at a distance and let the work speak for itself, and I do know that he enjoyed the status he’d attained. He might have denied it, but he denied all sorts of obviously true things at different moments.” Franzen’s concern with his own status as a writer, of course, is legendary, although it has never looked so ugly—not in his famous 1996 Harper’s essay (“Perchance to Dream”) about the status-problems of young American novelists, not in the spat with Oprah’s book club over The Corrections—as it does here. Franzen was asked, open-endedly, about his friend David. What he says about him is that he cared about status.  I want to say that such an answer records or reflects—besides a failure of generosity and tact—a failure of character. But who cares about Jonathan Franzen’s character—it’s his characters that count, right? Is that a yes or no question?

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