Franzen's reaction to Oprah's attention shows the raw nerve underneath his yoeman's work of presenting the thoughts of a highbrow mind – which he is – to the middle. He wants to be acknowledge for what he is, in the same way that Tom Tomorrow presents the unvarnished bald faced truth about his time.
This applies exponentially to the last of the three, Bret Easton Ellis. Franzen is trying to heal the middle, and tells them their part in the decline of America. Ellis however, has the number of the elites, people like DFW, for example. He hates pretense, and his most famous work, American Psycho, is a dissection of the pretense of elites. If Franzen gently satirizes America, Ellis it its most brutal effective voice. Consider that Wolfe took a very long novel, Bonfire of the Vanities, to not talk about the sadism of American elites, musing on master's of the universe who think about "the hot little fires" that they dream burn among suburban mothers – note that this is DFW's obsession, seducing mothers – where as Ellis goes into such minds, and brings back documentary footage. Ellis wrote a raw Blair Witchcraft Project documentary of the attitudes that would, 20 years later, bring about the mortgage crisis. DFW wanted to be serious, Franzen to explain serious, Ellis is serious. As serious as a shotgun blast to the face of literature. Franzen reacts to Wolfe's "Stalking the Billion Footed Beast" by going to where DFW pretended to go: towards cold sincerity.
Franzen's anger comes from being recognized as the wrong thing, and Ellis' from watching some one get away with exactly the con he described. Wallace is, to Ellis, a con man: get sort of rich, then get really rich by peddling a fake get rich scheme, with the sort of richness as social proof. Ellis is as loud about his gifts with words as DFW, and this is where he loses: Wallace has better chops. But where as Wallace could write his whole life and not come to grips with even his own inner demons, Ellis nails, time and again, the complex inner demons of America. As with the famous Joy Division cover, which started out as a submission to the art director of the label, he points a camera straight at his own asshole. And it takes a special wit to, as the art director did, say "my that's a clean one." Ellis pretends to portray the messiness, but like all boomer productions, it is very clean.
For example, consider the incident in American Psycho where the main character kills another in mid warble about Iggy Pop, it is an incident that would not be out of place in Pulp Fiction: a forceful end to a narcisstic banality. Then, the author describes, in widescreen detail, the consumer detritus of the place. Note that Franzen, for all his presenting as being quotidian, does not do this, his present is vague. Ellis is specific to a fault, journalistic and cinematic at once about the answering machine, television, and stupid pet tricks on Letterman. This is the product of a writer with an eye. It is also spotlessly clean. Everything works, everything is new, nothing is dented. Like the hive of scum and villainy in Star Wars, the streets are remarkably well scrub. The body bleeds, but the blood evaporates. Grunge isn't there, this is still a big hair band doing down and dirty. Ratt. Poison. The Scorpions.
His output is front loaded, Less than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, and American Psycho are all cultural totems and cult classics, with time showing that they are losing the cult as an adjective. However, like all writers, say Dickens, who get to the point quickly, the rest of the career is a test of technique to expand it. The turning point novel then, is Glamorama. It is a satire, which flirts constantly with parody, and in it Ellis is showing the point in ways more graphically than is possible. It also calls into question whether his early works were, as well, satires.
Where as my comparisons between Franzen and DFW were to show that the two authors are separate, Ellis and DFW are inexorably interlinked, in that Ellis accepts about himself what Wallace cannot – that he's an asshole, and glorifies this. This makes Wallace the novelist for people who would prefer not to think of themselves as assholes, and Ellis the guy at the party who says "but we all are anyway." As such Ellis has drifted out of the Boomerite obsession with justifying narcissism, and into the X acceptance of it with a shrug. However, like any good post-modern, his collision, lust for ennui, and consumerism overwhelm the inner life of the author. The cleanliness studied.
Ellis, by being the angriest, is also the most productive. He's written more novels than Franzen, and is no less careful about his diagnosis that the world has become a spy state, sold by media glamor. But this is also a boomerite media theory, not an Xer reality theory, of the problem. In this respect then Ellis is speaking forward to Xers in a way that Franzen, a hopless square, is not, and DFW, who exists for himself, does only in the sense that there is always a self-obsessed technical maven in any time and place. Ellis is angry because DFW is beloved, and he is despised, and he despises that he is despised for being honest about what DFW lied about. Franzen has been more gentle about the Saint Dave myth, but Ellis, raw edged and raw nerved, is never gentle about anything.
In fact, at that link is a short summation that proves the thesis that these are three boomer writers, and that DFW was, in fact, insincere about sincerity, this from Gerald Howard, former editor of both, and a self-confessed body boomer:
At the moment, the Wallace style is dominant and that is what drives Bret Ellis nuts. David’s 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, “This is Water,” has assumed the stature of a manifesto and ultimate statement. But, soul-pocked baby boomer that I am, I don’t buy it as a guide for right behavior. It feels uncomfortably close to those books of affirmations, no doubt inspiring but of questionable use when the hard stuff arrives. I truly believe that David was the finest writer of his generation, but his design for living seems to me naïve and likely to collapse at the first impact of life’s implacable difficulties. It badly needed an injection of Montaigne or Marcus Aurelius.
Me, I find Bret Ellis’ scalding, cynical, brittle, savagely unillusioned worldview curiously refreshing. He is the Loki or Trickster of the literary world (or maybe the Lou Reed), poking sharp sticks in our eyes and daring us to figure out if he could possibly mean that. Deal with it. In a culture that has the phrase “Good job!” on endless rotation, he dares to say, over and over, “You must be fucking kidding me.” He’s incorrigible, he’s not a nice boy, he doesn’t care if you become a better person, he is not in any way seeking your approval. Good for him. Some brave college should ask him to do a commencement address.