The American novelist has upset everyone from Oprah Winfrey to bird lovers to women writers. Is he sorry? Far from it: Franzen’s arguments with young people – social media and feminism fuel his latest book.
At 55 he has the earnest, slightly puggish look of a younger man and the occasional intemperance of one too. On a refresher driving test he took recently the novelist scored high on the scale for susceptibility to road rage. (‘There are 11 things that are warning signs of road rage and I had like nine of them.’) His fame has as much to do with the fights he has picked – or has had foisted upon him – as with the quality of his fiction;
Franzen riles people in a way that is unusual and perhaps reassuring for a novelist – given the endless debate about the relevance of that role. He has attracted the scorn over the years of users of social media – environmentalists – certain stripes of feminist critic – lesser novelists – the lead book reviewer of the New York Times and fans of Oprah Winfrey.