Christopher Connery and Jonathan Franzen recorded this interview at a moment when Franzen's new work in progress was morphing into something quite different from the original plan. The discussion was fairly wide ranging—it touched on topics of regionalism, character, the novel versus the short story, and contemporary politics, but it was centered on the social and political capacity of the modern novel, the form's ability to reflect on or respond to its times, the novel's relationship to society, and the nature of politics in the current period, a period marked, in contrast to the nineteenth-century heyday of the realist novel, by a host of other media allowing for more immediate, constant, and comprehensive representations of the social and political. What can the novel add, in this mediated environment?
The interview touches on the blurred distinctions between the public and the private in the contemporary United States. Franzen reflects on the challenges that this situation of cultural entropy poses to the novelist, and on the capacity of the novel to respond to or affect this situation. Recognizing and rejecting the temptation in fiction to convey authoritative knowledge of or judgment on the social world, Franzen is inspired by fiction's capacity—when it is true to its exploratory, inventive, and creative character—to convey something significant about individual and social life, and about the complicated intersection of public and private. Throughout the interview, he shows a deep commitment to his readers and to the pleasure of reading.