It is easy to imagine that the press of modernity makes authentic encounter uniquely difficult, that we are all belated exceptionalists. But this is postmodern provincialism, surely, and Franzen in his heart, seems not to believe it either. We are not uniquely doomed by modern conditions; if we are doomed, then we are doomed in rather old-fashioned ways, as Cervantes and Sterne and Svevo knew. We are doomed because humans always flow over their targets; their souls are gratuitous and busy, clogged with aspiration and desire. This is the dark theme of Franzen's novel; this is its truest touch. All the rest is 'social news,' and may be turned off, as it deserves.
"Jonathan Franzen and the 'Social Novel', " James Wood