When Jeffrey Eugenides moved to New York, he was 28 years old and things were not looking good. After graduating from Brown in 1983, he and Rick Moody, a college friend, had driven out to San Francisco with no real plan other than making a go of it as writers, and lived together awhile on Haight Street, listening to the sound of the electric typewriter coming from the other room. … That same summer, Jonathan Franzen, also 28, was living in Jackson Heights, Queens, and feeling “totally, totally isolated.” The neighborhood was an immigrant jumble, and Franzen was a solemn, intellectual guy from St. Louis without much occasion to leave the house. He had gotten some attention and money for his debut novel, The Twenty-Seventh City, but the axis of the planet had not obediently shifted. He was frustrated with living in “shared monastic seclusion” with his then-wife, he says, when he got a fan letter from a writer he knew of but had never read. David Foster Wallace, then 26, was having dire troubles of his own and wrote to praise what Franzen had done in a “freaking first novel.”
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