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Waite's job for himself. Grant kills innocent and guüty alike. He even goes so far as to kül the son of the judge who had earlier deputized him in order to stir Grove HiU into exacting vengeance against the village . Franklin belongs to a rising generation of Southern writers. He does not write in the baroque style that has unfortunately become associated with Southern letters. His descriptions of the Southwestern Alabama landscape in this novel are rich in detaU, but Franklin's sentences themselves are as spare as they are true. QS) How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002, 288 pp., $24 The famiUar story goes something like this: In 1996, noveUst Jonathan Franzen pubUshes an essay in Harper 's Magazine, titled "Perchance to Dream," in which he argues that the social novel is dead, and therefore Franzen, who has written two culturaUy engaged, critically praised, commercially ignored social novels, feels alienated and alone. Then, five years later, Franzen publishes The Corrections, a social novel that seUs well and becomes the Uterary event of the year when Franzen expresses his ambivalence over its selection for the Oprah Book Club. Oprah famously disinvites him from an appearance on her show ("Go back to being alienated and alone, Jonathan ," one imagines her thinking), and The Corrections goes on to sell more than two million copies in hardcover and win the National Book Award. So much for the death of the social novel. Now Franzen has followed The Corrections with a coUection of essays, How to Be Alone. Most of the thirteen pieces included have been previously published in periodicals such as The New Yorker and Details. Among them is a trimmed and revised version of the Harper's essay (now titled "Why Bother?"); a powerful and heartfelt reflection upon his father's struggle against the ravages of Alzheimer's; a tale of bureaucracy and the U.S. Post Office ("Lost in the Mail"); an essay on the prison system ("Control Units"); and a seU-impUcating broadside against the evils of smoking and the tobacco industry ("Sifting the Ashes"). Altogether, it's a mix of personal narrative, cultural criticism and reflection about the joys and frustrations of reading and writing. Ui his introduction, Franzen identifies the "underlying investigation in all these essays" as "the problem ofpreserving individuaUty and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the problem of how to be alone." Yet this doesn't seem quite right. If anything, the problem that Franzen follows (or that follows Franzen) throughout these essays is not "how to be alone" but "how to connect (or reconnect) with other people." How to be anything other than alone, even when there are people and TV cameras and corporate advertisers everywhere around you. Franzen is the central figure of the coUection, and we are reminded on numerous occasions of the aloneness that he feels or has felt as a writer and as a young person Uving through the Reagan '80s and the dot-com '90s. In the Harper's essay Franzen The Missouri Review · 175 writes, "I spent the early nineties trapped in a double singularity. Not only did I feel that I was dUferent than everyone around me, but I felt that the age I Uved in was utterly dUferent from any age that had come before. For me the work of regaining a tragic perspective has therefore involved a dual kind of reaching out: both the reconnection with a community of readers and writers, and the reclamation of a sense of history ." Franzen admits to "an angry and frightened isolation" (apparently in those days before The Corrections ), and he writes of his intention for the collection of essays to represent his movement "toward an acceptance —even a celebration—of being a reader and a writer." He wants to appear optimistic that the white noise of commercial clutter can be stUled, even if only for a few hours, by Uterature —that a writer and a reader can still connect. Yet he can't help but remind us that in this electronic day and consumer age, it isn't easy. Consider the final two selections in the book The...


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pp. 175-176
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