As an antidote to the we're-all-gonna-die futuristic sentiments of The Road, I am now taking in a dose of reality courtesy of Jonathan Franzen's memoir, due out in October. It's pleasingly slim and pleasingly reminiscent of The Corrections in its meticulous observation and dry wit, but it's not particularly pleasingly unapocalyptic. In fact Franzen's clear-eyed view of the inequalities of contemporary America reads like a prequel to the social and environmental demise and destruction of McCarthy's novel. He nails the problem beautifully in this paragraph, taken from an early chapter:
"This is great time to be an American CEO, a tough time to be the CEO's lowest-paid worker. A great time to be Wal-Mart, a though time to be in Wal-Mart's way, a great time to be an encumbent extremist, a tough time to be a moderate challenger. Fabulous to be a defense contractor, shitty to be a reservist, excellent to have tenure at Princeton, grueling to be an adjunct at Queens College, outstanding to manage a pension fund, lousy to rely on one, better than ever to be bestselling, harder than ever to be mid-list, phenomenal to win a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, a drag to be a video-poker addict."
His place in the pecking order he defines equally clearly.
"My biggest worries on the day [of Hurricane Katrina] were whether I should feel bad about quitting work at three and whether my favourite organic store would have Meyer lemons for the marguaritas I wanted to make apres golf... When I flew back to New York, I worried that Katrina's aftermath might create unpleasant turbulence on my flight."
We wealthy westerners are the Franzens of the world. Damn it. We're all gonna die.