Andrew pulls some good quotes from a Franzen interview. Here’s one. The other two at the link.
the thing I abandoned, the two hundred pages of The Corrections that I abandoned, was essentially an illustrative work. And I couldn’t smoke enough cigarettes in a day to interest myself in using a novel to illustrate points I already understood very well. I think, although he is extremely kind and erudite and a lovely person, Richard Powers’s books are good examples of what happens when you try to illustrate a social reality that’s already known to you. Powers can still sometimes make it exciting because he’s so bright. He’s brighter than almost anyone who’ll read him, so you can always learn something from him. But I’m not sure he’s learning much himself, and that’s the big danger of trying to use a novel to mirror the social reality. Sure, when there were no other media to do the job, it was useful for Zola and Sinclair to broadcast important social info and dramatize it and make it accessible to a bourgeois readership. But TV can do all that now, and so the purely social novel has pretty much shriveled up and died.