At a time when the world of fiction can seem overtaken by wizards, warlocks, Jane Austen zombies and teenage vampires, Jonathan Franzen stands out with his carefully crafted, increasingly rare type of writing: the big American novel. The Corrections, his 2001 work about a Midwestern couple and their three adult children, has sold 2.85 million copies. His long-awaited follow-up, Freedom, another epic about an unraveling Midwestern family, was released earlier this year and is already being hailed as a modern classic. (Writer Jennifer Weiner coined the term Franzenfreude to describe authors' disdain for all the media attention heaped on their contemporary.) Franzen is a meticulously slow writer; it took him nine years to finish Freedom a rate that seems downright slothlike compared with the output of today's commercially successful authors. But in the end, taking that time has proved well worth it. Not only does the gripping finished product captivate readers, it's also a welcome reminder that the era of the literary novelist can't be written off.
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