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Thomas Mallon on the career of Jonathan Franzen


Jonathan Franzen’s new novel ‘Crossroads’ has sparked a lot of discussion, as his work tends to. Novelist and critic Thomas Mallon, who reviewed “Crossroads” for us, is on the podcast this week to talk about the book and put it in the context of Franzen’s entire career.

“He’s basically a social novelist, and his basic unit of society is the family,” says Mallon. “Families are always important in Franzen, and we move from family to business, to city, whatever the larger units. His novels will probably remain indicators of what the world was like at the time he was writing. This new novel is a little different in that it dates back 50 years. The Nixon era is now, definitely, historical novel material. “

Joshua Ferris visits the podcast to talk about his new novel, “A Calling for Charlie Barnes”.

“He’s basically a guy who’s been floundering his whole life until he got pancreatic cancer,” Ferris says. “His diagnosis is a bit of a back and forth, he’s not really being honest with too many people in his life about what’s going on. But finally this rather thunderous and overwhelming disease happens to him. He’s got to take care of it; he’s got to have an operation and some chemo and everything. And he changes his life. That’s sort of the plot of the book, I guess. But it’s told by a cunning man related to her who determines the narrative as much as Charlie himself.

Also in this week’s episode, Tina Jordan reflects on the history of book review as she celebrates her 125th birthday; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and our new book reviewers, Molly Young and Alexandra Jacobs, introduce themselves and talk about their approaches to literary criticism. Pamela Paul is the host.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this episode and the Book Review podcast in general. You can send them to books@nytimes.com.

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