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Is Franzen America's finest novelist?
He is a No 1 bestseller who is also hailed as the foremost literary novelist of his generation. Nine years after the phenomenal success of The Corrections, has Jonathan Franzen pulled off the same feat with his new novel?

'It's scary," the poet John Berryman said to the friend who'd just informed him of the death of Robert Frost, "Who's number one? Who's number one? Cal is number one, isn't he?" Cal was Robert Lowell, generally considered to be a better poet than Berryman, though the hoped-for answer was "No, John, it's you." And perhaps the friend would have told Berryman he was number one if he hadn't been so shocked by his competitiveness.

"Who's number one?" might be a trivial game, but it isn't only poets who play it, and since the deaths of Saul Bellow (2005), Norman Mailer (2007) and John Updike (2009) it's a question that's inevitably come up in relation to American fiction. Toni Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, and Philip Roth, surely the greatest living writer not to have won the Nobel, might head most lists. Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Marilynne Robinson are names to contend with too, and Annie Proulx, Richard Ford, Anne Tyler, Paul Auster, Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and Joyce Carol Oates have all written highly acclaimed novels. And then there's a younger generation coming through – Jhumpa Lahiri, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Safran Foer. A wide range of talents, each with claims to have written, or to have the potential to write, the Great American Novel. But for now the only show in town is Jonathan Franzen, whose new novel, Freedom, received glowing reviews when published in New York last month ("brilliant", "a masterpiece", "an indelible portrait of our times") and earned him that ultimate imprimatur, an appearance on the cover of Time magazine.

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Source: The Guardian
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