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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
In my opinion Jonathan Franzen’s new book Crossroads is totally worth one’s money and most importantly one's time. It is a complex book, as well as beautiful and engaging. It deals with many important subjects that I guess worry, interest, excite many of us. Religion. Faith and lack thereof. Dangers of growing up and maturing. Selfishness, irritating, destructive, indispensable. But probably it is love that is the focal point, the source of many complications and entanglements. Love — romantic, erotic, parental, filial. Selfish and selfless. Profane and sacred. In this book there are so many things, thoughts, emotions, experiences, that I have recognised. From other books, from other lives, from my own life. From neither of, except my most private fears and temptations. And this must be an essential element of a good book’s secret and appeal. Someone may say after reading it, I didn’t like it. Fair enough. But, again my opinion only, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be a contemporary of Mr. Franzen and his work. And to be able to tell a spouse, a friend, a child (a grandchild? years and years later), well I remember October 2021 when Franzen’s latest book came out, there it is by the way on the middle shelf. See? Stout and proud the way hardcovers are. I thought I would wait for a couple of months, sort of wait for the noise and excitement to settle down. But no, a week after its release there I was sitting on the sofa engrossed in it.
I am so much looking forward to the next two books.
Alas it seem that Mr. Franzen is reduced to shibboleths much like America itself. His excuse would be that his story is set in the seventies but a fresher take would have been welcome. Some of the old magic keeps the pages turning but not enough here to create the empathy that's so absent elsewhere.
This new Franzen's book goes back to the writing skills the Author seemed recently had lost. I found the same poignant but sharp insights of the character of each of the people who intertwine their lives together in the book. The plot is quite simple but articulated enough to allow the reader curiosity maintaining vitality. It reminds to me the feverly reading of Freedom, some years ago, remaining IMHO the best of Franzen's.