Reading Jonathan Franzen’s commendation of Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children I see that it is also a commendation of a particular kind of novel, the realistic family-centered novel, like his own The Corrections, from what he fears is a permanent dismissal. “Haven’t we had enough of that?” — and you know, I think we have, for now anyway. Why is Franzen so much less interesting than, say George Eliot or Trollope? — not, please note, why isn’t he as good as they are, for few novelists are, but why is he not as interesting? I am inclined to think that that kind of novel depends on a certain kind of society, a society with elaborate explicit and implicit rules, and without the necessity of characters navigating those rules, just isn’t worth writing. In our society people can be whatever they want in relation to any other people and in relation to any branch of society, or that’s what we think anyway, and so there just aren’t enough structures of resistance to make the realistic social-familial novel work. We’re all internal, or (again) think we are, and the proper media for that kind of experience are the essay, the memoir, the blog, and maybe the lyric poem. The novel isn’t dead, but the kind of novel Franzen wants to commend will not have the kind of resonance he wants it to have until society becomes more formally and thoroughly structured. Which at some point will happen.