The bestselling novelist talks about his latest book, ‘Crossroads,’ and taking a more compassionate stance toward his characters—and himself.
Jonathan Franzen’s mother knew how to wound him in just the right way. “It requires a high level of subtlety,” says the 62-year-old novelist from his home in Santa Cruz, California. “You must have observed the person carefully and you must have identified what’s likely to hurt the most, and then there’s the rhetorical challenge of delivering the painful blow without having your fingerprints on it,” he says. A homemaker who died of cancer in 1999, his mother, Irene, continues to be influential in the author’s life. The anger he’s long harbored, manifested in everything from his self-admitted road rage to his vocal hatred of social media, informed his five previous novels, from his 1988 debut, The Twenty-Seventh City, to 2015’s Purity, he says.