Franzen’s Crossroads and Towles’ The Lincoln Highway are the biggest American novels of 2021. Big bestsellers both. Set in the past because American writers don’t write about the present anymore.
But the really interesting thing is that Crossroads offers a deeply conservative worldview while The Lincoln Highway is steeped in the liberal one. These novels are almost mirror images of each other. Crossroads is about different experiences of Christianity. In The Lincoln Highway, characters are trying to cobble together a moral code in the absence of any religion, and the best they can come up with is a primitive version of “an eye for an eye.” Crossroads is about the things you don’t choose while in Towles’ novel everything is completely arbitrary and fragmentary. There’s no particular reason for anything. The greatest danger to the characters in The Lincoln Highway comes from a character associated with religion, and they keep murdering him symbolically. Everybody is constantly on the move because staying in place is fraught with an inexplicable danger. Drug addiction and alcoholism are cute.
P.S. The Lincoln Highway is bad not because it’s rooted in the liberal worldview. It’s bad because it’s poorly written. Also, Franzen poses as a leftist snowflake in public. It’s mostly an act but that doesn’t matter. There is never much overlap between a work of art and the personality of the artist. It’s got to be actual art for this rule to work, though.