I think there's an awful lot to like about Jonathan Franzen's long-awaited fourth novel (nine years since his last, The Corrections, though he published a couple of interesting nonfiction books in the meanwhile). It's a big, lumpy shaggy dog of a story, ranging across the first decade of the new century with an almost ferocious desire to understand a time and place where, as Franzen knows well, there is still little understanding. Or too much, in its objective fulfillment of those lines from Yeats, with the worst so "full of passionate intensity" (which I hate to think where that leaves me). Call it the George W. Bush years, the Republican vision, here addressed top to bottom, starting with the title. The era provides a target-rich environment, if you will, and Franzen takes full advantage. His big novel rambles and rumbles and occasionally stings like blackberry brambles. I like the juxtaposition of the clumped-together structure with the effortless artfulness of his prose. I like the characters and their complexities, all of them. And, of course, I have a personal connection with the Minnesota/Twin Cities setting, which I think he did a really good job of getting right. I came away from it thinking most fondly and wistfully about the characters, and the little things Franzen does to make them so indelible. For example, the way Patty Berglund talks, vaguely cynical and sarcastic, distancing, even alienating. Yet I can hear her laugh as she speaks—which Franzen renders simply as "ha-ha-ha"—and in spite of everything I like her a lot. I connect with all of Walter's women, as Lalitha also seems to me tremendously vivid and poignant. The relationship that Walter's and Patty's son Joey has with his strange girlfriend/wife Connie ... I'm not sure I've ever met anyone quite like Connie in some ways; in others, I think I might have married her myself. And I would bet money they are headed for the same kind of problems, and the same resolution, suffered by Walter and Patty. You see how persistently I remain emotionally involved with these characters. I love Patty's whole jock thing, and the attendant team ethos. Sometimes the novel does feel a bit overpacked, as when members of Patty's family of origin each get fairly extended scenes toward the end. I love the way Franzen finds to many ways to tell the story, including Patty Berglund's therapy autobiography for extended passages, and the way she refers to herself as "the autobiographer." More of that distancing thing that she does, nonetheless charming. It's easy to have a lot of affection for this novel.