Correction Dept.

And he's certainly not some gloomy drunk who pecks away on his typewriter, sniffing at a society that doesn't or couldn't understand him. ''I'm essentially a sunny person.... I'm a silly person,'' he insists. ''People who are depressed and shut-ins and antisocial, they don't write novels! If they do, it's Celine!'' Inspired, he runs back into the bedroom -- spare, like a twentysomething's, with a mattress on the floor and an unframed map of Hawaii and a Norman Rockwell print on the walls -- and rushes back with the proof. ''I've brought my social calendar, and this is what it looks like,'' he says, flipping, flipping through the months. ''This is February! There are no interviews in here! This is just social life!''

Actually, in February, Franzen met with producer Scott Rudin, who has optioned The Corrections. ''Rudin's famous for being respectful of writers, so it was like, come in, come in, come in. Have some good food and talk about yourself for four hours with people who think you've written a terrific book.'' Franzen has great admiration for Rudin's team, especially playwright-screenwriter David Hare, who recently wrote the film version of The Hours for Rudin and has just finished a first draft of The Corrections. ''I don't want to let them know that I'm desperately curious to see the script, but I am of course desperately curious to see it.''

The Lamberts, The Corrections' Midwestern family with a Parkinson's-afflicted father, Alfred, at its shaky center, have yet to be cast. ''I think everybody's first choice was Paul Newman for Alfred,'' says Franzen. ''But I'm told he wanted to do a big role in which the character is sympathetic.... Maybe not sympathetic, but powerful, and of course this is a role about decline and I completely understand why someone wouldn't want to go out on a role like that.'' Hands reach for the glasses. ''Am I sorry, can I, is there potential trouble I can get in for giving my casting preferences? Help me here...'' He's twitchy and only half-teasing. ''If they told me Gene Hackman was going to do Alfred, I would be delighted. If they told me they had cast Cate Blanchett as [Alfred's daughter] Denise, I would be jumping up and down, even though officially I really don't care what they do with the movie.''

There are land mines everywhere. And then one has to go and bring up Franzen's author photo. The chiseled leading- man's head shot from the jacket of The Corrections was compared in print with a sweaty, double-chinned candid. So last year's cheekbones aren't on the new book's back flap. In their place is one tired-looking mug. ''If I actually give an answer to a question about my author photo, I feel like I'm being refreshingly frank and honest, and it will reliably be read as 'He's image-obsessed.' And of course the fact that I worry about being perceived as image-obsessed does convict me of being image-obsessed. That's why one has to be careful,'' he concludes with a shrug.


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