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Farther Away

The notably unsentimental Jonathan Franzen offers a clear-eyed defense of sentiment in this essay collection.

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Farther Away
By Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
321 pp.

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In the first essay in his new collection, Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen rails against “technocapitalism,” arguing that “consumer-technology products” like the BlackBerry are “great allies and enablers of narcissism.” At this point, such pronouncements are standard Franzen fare: Not a week seems to go by without the author of “The Corrections” and “Freedom” launching a jeremiad against Twitter or bemoaning how Facebook has changed the meaning of “like.” Franzen is American literature’s grouch in chief, and he seems to relish the role.

Given the prickly persona that Franzen cultivates, it may come as a surprise to find that the real subject of “Farther Away” isn’t technocapitalism, but that which it most threatens: love. The collection opens with a defense of love as “bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are”; it ends with Franzen finishing Paula Fox’s “Desperate Characters” for the “sixth or seventh time,” finding that the novel retains its power to move him: “suddenly I’m in love all over again.” “Farther Away” is, from beginning to end, a celebration of love: what provokes it and what endangers it, what joys it brings and what terrors it produces.

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