To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyses reviews to verify trustworthiness.
It’s absolutely wonderful to lose yourself in a great novel that you trust completely. Franzen has created a family of six: father Russ, a pastor from a Mennonite background; wife Marion from a Jewish Catholic background and their four kids: Clem, Becky, Perry and sunny Judson. The time is the seventies. The place is a country town near Chicago. At their church, Russ is the assistant minister. He has given up control of the youth group Crossroads to Rick Ambrose in trying circumstances. He’s attracted to a foxy new congregant, Frances. Clem and Becky are super-close, but their camaraderie shifts when he goes to college and gets a girlfriend, under whose influence he decides to turn himself over to the draft board for Vietnam. Perry is super intelligent, emotional, off-putting to his father and into drugs. Marion, once the talented sprite over whom Russ marvelled is now dumpy and careworn. She comes into much sharper view later on when her horrifying backstory is revealed.
Chapter by chapter, the story of family developments is carried forward by concentrating on one character at a time. Franzen builds a complex, layered view of each psyche and how much each person knows and understands the others which frankly, is gob-smacking in its brilliance. Our sympathies wax and wane for each of them as the annual Crossroads trip to help out in Navaho country approaches and Russ does all he can to seal his fate with Frances. Once there, there’s a disaster that has far reaching consequences and by the end of the novel you wonder what’s in store for this fractured family. Luckily, this is the first of a trilogy. This would be an excellent novel for a non-Christian to read to understand how Christianity has formed the culture of the US. It’s very worthy, except when it’s not. This is one of those books that make you dubious about picking up the next book on your pile (or tablet) because no doubt, the next book will not be as good.
Franzen is acknowledged to be one of the top living novelists in America. In his “Crossroads” he has demonstrated yet again why he has retained this accolade for so long. A small number of readers loath him but I think the reason is that they just don’t get his style. Here is an author who can convey poignancy and humour in the space of a single sentence. When his characters compromise themselves and end up in a Catch 22 situation, Franzen is in the background with a wry smile saying “look what I got you into”. “Crossroads” is reputed to be the first in a trilogy and interestingly as you come to towards the denouement, you can see traces of where the story might go in Volume 2. He has adopted an interesting structure for this novel; The first 180 pages consist of five chapters, each one told from the point of view of a different character. Most of the action takes place over the course of one day. This allows him to do what he is best at; by means of a style that is both sharp and empathic he excavates deeply into the core of the persona of each of his main characters. For example, his depiction of the mental illness of Marion should be required reading for all psychiatric health professionals as it gives a fresh insight into what a breakdown must really feels like. It’s classic. The book can be read at so many levels; from a tour de force of literary style to a good story with a comic twist. However, and this seems a new departure for Franzen, it could be argued that he has tackled that fundamental moral and philosophical question “What does it really mean to be good”. The 1970’s context also adds colour and of course he is spot on in his understanding of the culture of that decade. Here is a novel that is vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. I felt cheated after 580 pages as I did not want it to end. Roll on Volume 2.
Reached the end, though don't know how or why. Author uses ten words when one would do, jumping confusingly from one time frame to another. This is supposedly the first in a trilogy...... well, count me out from the rest
Franzen has lost the crucial skill of engaging the reader. It's a rule of fiction that a writer should show but not tell. Rules are made to be broken but not ignored. Franzen ignores the rule to the point of being tiresome.
Fiction is as much about what a writer leaves out as what he puts in. What is left out is filled in by the reader's imagination and empathy with the characters. That is the magic of fiction.
Franzen leaves out nothing about his characters. He describes every emotion, every thought about that emotion, every emotion about the thoughts about that emotion, every thought about the emotion about the thoughts about that emotion - ad infinitum.
In a novel with a thin plot driven by characters we end up curiously uninvolved with those characters. This is because by describing the characters in every detail, Franzen leaves the reader no room to project into them, to provide for them the elements that the author may only suggest or briefly describe. In his endless dissection of the minds of very ordinary characters Franzen destroys the magic of fiction.
I had high hopes for this, having read and enjoyed "The Corrections". There is no faulting Franzen's psychological acuity and skewering of his characters' motivations and self-obsessions, and yet, I'm not sure that it amounted to much after 580 pages.
Well worth the time and patience needed to sink into it. I would say it took me about 80 pages but then you're in. Franzen writes people really well, all different kinds and he sinks you into the mind set of each of his characters, their frailties, their personality with great skill. Excellent