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This Is His Life Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away

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This Is His Life: Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away
This Is His Life: Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away

The latest in Jonathan Franzen’s catalogue of long books with lonesome titles, Farther Away collects the author’s magazine reporting, personal histories, and book reviews from the past 13 years and arranges them in reverse chronology, creating a this-is-your-life kind of recap of how the long hours around the publication of those two great novels, The Corrections and Freedom, were killed. The answer is that the author, for the most part, worries. He worries about the state of New York. He worries, twice, that Facebook users are unlearning the desire to communicate in person. Occasionally, he worries that he worries too much, but not much, since he already covered that in his memoir.

Without the editorial restraint of his previous nonfiction collection, How to Be Alone, Farther Away suffers under the weight of all this worrying, filled as it is with so many rote pieces impassive to the author’s skills as a novelist: his sensitivity to the various impressions an encounter can have on different people, his ability to flex and withhold judgment, his dialogue. Tasked with writing about things that already mean something to someone, the author becomes contrarian and full of points, dispassionately pooh-poohing defenders of his given topics, or the unimpressed, or, in one of the most awful tirades, people who say stuff to each other on cellphones.