Strong Motion was a novel written by a person to whom things were happening as he wrote it. It was a third party in the relationship [ie., Franzen's marriage]...I honestly have a poor recollection of how I wrote that book. It was bad time.
This makes sense to me--the book feels as though it was written by somebody who had no idea what he was doing. And that's why it's great. Freedom, and, to a lesser extent, The Corrections, seem to me lesser works, more controlled, more composed. The new book in particular is a disappointment to me; it seems massively, if expertly, calculated. Franzen's life needs order, but I think his work needs chaos. He shouldn't believe the hype: Freedom is a smart, hugely entertaining book, but I'd like him to leave a corner of his heart and mind untended.
One thing I really dig in this interview, though, is a quote about American writing:
The people at the Swedish Academy [...] recently confessed their thoroughgoing lack of interest in American literary production. They say we're too insular [...] we're only writing about ourselves. Given how Americanized the world has become, I think they're probably wrong about this [...] but even if they're right, I don't think our insularity is necessarily a bad thing. [...] Maybe that very insularity, that feeling of living in a complete but not quite universal world, creates certain kinds of literary possibility.
He's right. It does. This is a strong case, I think, for specific detail over broad theme, and it's a lesson Franzen ought to listen to himself. The least interesting things about Freedom are the things that are about, frankly, freedom. It's when he forgets he's an important writer, and notices the hell out of the smallest things, that Franzen is at his best.