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.
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.
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.
I was young in the seventies, when this book’s story is set, and I never met anyone like the cheerleader-daughter who marches up to a boy at school, without provocation from him, and in front of his friends tells him, “You can stop asking me for dates because I will never go out with you. You’re a bully and a jerk.” That’s not a precise quotation (I can’t find the location of this particular scene), but my memory of popular high school girls—and this one is supposedly at the very top of the peer ladder, adored by everyone who knows her—my experience is that a popular girl would never do that without provocation from the boy, and maybe not even then. High school girls can be mean, but this girl is not presented as aggressive, so that scene is just unbelievable. Nor would teenagers in the early ‘70’s (maybe not now either, I wouldn’t know), interrupt a minister trying to lead a prayer for a youth group, shouting that he’s tedious, he’s preachy, he’s disliked. Yes, in the 70’s lots of revolt against authority was going on, but some of the characters Franzen has created in Crossroads just don’t ring true, and that spoiled my pleasure in the book. Franzen’s reputation as an expert prose stylist is not enough if some of his teen characters behave as if they were on a different planet from the one I inhabited.
Where are Mex Perkins and Malcom Cowley now that we need them? Fair enough, Franzen's a fine writer. Maybe a great writer. Alice Waters is a great chef, too, but I don't want to eat a 5,000 course meal at her restaurant. Less is more. Or in Franzen's case put it this way: way less is way more. For me this book is far too long. The characters are wonderful and their problems are, too. But Franzen goes on and on. It numbs the reader instead of intrigues them. Granted, I'm a film writer and so I'm drawn to more condensed stories, but this is a question I have about many books now: who killed all the editors? Bellow and Updike wrote long books, but their stories moved to different places, giving them a sense of change and activity. I'm sure many readers find the worlds and characters created here fascinating. But they'd find them just as fascinating if their stories were shorter. And, by the way, one small editorial note: no one "whooped" in the early 70s like they do in the religious group here. Listen to recordings of concerts at the time. They screamed and they cheered, but they didn't practice the now ever-present "whoop". I was there. Anyway, a fine book here - or two or three.
I loved The Corrections and Purity. I could hardly wait to get my copy of Crossroads so I pre-ordered it from Amazon. Little did I expect it to take me close to three weeks to finish. It dragged and dragged, the characters two-dimensional and, for the most part, unlikeable. I can deal with unlikeable characters, but I want to know their depths and why they are repugnant to me.
The Hildebrandts are a middle America, middle class family with their own unique dysfunctions. Russ is a minister who lusts after a widow in his congregation and hates his associate minister. Marion is Russ's wife and a woman with a history of secrets she's never shared with her husband. She has more depth and gravitas than anyone else in the novel other than Perry, her genius son. Perry is into philosophy and the meaning of life until he gets too addled by the drugs he deals. Clem, the eldest son, is in a moral competition with his father and decides to make the ultimate decision to prove he's right. Becky, the beautiful cheerleader and popular high school student, is just that - a cardboard cutout of Miss Popularity. There is one more child, younger than Perry, but he kind of gets lost in the Hildebrandt shuffle.
This story has some illuminating themes despite the lack of character depth. It deals with mental illness in a way that is rare in its accuracy. Franzen gets it when he discusses manic depression and drug addled psychosis. He understands the genetic heritage of mental illness and the inescapable aspects of heritability. Despite his understanding, he delights in making fun of therapy and its process. Marion's love/hate relationship with her therapist, whom she calls 'the dumpling', is a farcical view of the therapeutic process and the real benefits it can provide.
Then there is the title of the book, Crossroads. It can be weighty or light, depending on how you consider it. In its practicality, Crossroads is a church group for adolescents where they engage with each other in honest and thoughtful ways, play music and sing. The group is run by Russ's nemesis, Ambrose. The title can also refer to a stage in the life of each character when they come to a crossroads that leads them on a new journey.
I so wanted to enjoy this book but I had to slog through it, wanting to quit many a time. I made myself finish for several reasons. One is that I kept hoping it would get better, another is that the timeframe of 1971 interested me because of my age, and ultimately, it was by Franzen and how could he write something less than spectacular?
I’ve read most of Franzen’s work. I really looked forward to this book because I was raising kids in the 70’s in a Chicago suburb. I had a son Perry’s age who I knew was using drugs and I kept my head in the sand. I couldn’t face it because no one else was talking about it, and I was afraid he was the only kid doing it. It was a terrifying time for me. There were moments in this book that were breathtaking. I absolutely do not understand why Franzen felt he needed almost 700 pages to tell this story. He could have told the same story in half the pages, and I actually think it would have been twice as powerful. 700 pages is a lot to ask of a reader. If this is really the first of a trilogy, I will probably read the synopses of Book 2and 3.
Franzen’s book is like being with a pseudo-friend who will not stop analyzing your every tiny move. The book is filled with creepy and uncomfortable themes, and there’s no real resolution to the endless meandering character sketches. The prose is just excruciating in it’s awkwardness, and omg….the sex scenes are absolutely repellent. I’d read so many good reviews and was so looking forward to enjoying this book. I stayed with it until the end, feeling by turns puzzled, unsettled, and just aggravated.
I really did try, because I wanted to enjoy and finish this book. I've read all Franzen's early work, and I made it through Purity, but I couldn't get into Crossroads at all. I'm still glad to have it in my library because I know I'll want to read it sometime in the future. In this book, the first few chapters I read, the author describes things in terms of minutes. Every. Single. Damn. Minute. I prefer a faster pace; I am old and want to be able to finish what I start. Get moving here!! I'm sure this is a good book, but it's just not something I could get into. Maybe I'll come back to it later. It's just a matter of taste. I'm a very eclectic reader, but I do like books that move along.
I had been waiting for the new Jonathan Franzen, since I had come to rely on him for shrewdly drawn characters and perspectives that I found interesting to ponder. On that front, Crossroads can also deliver: big family with many perches for observations to watch the dramas unfold,, charismatic performers, neuroses and even, here, psychoses. I loved Marion's arc and wondered why it didn't lead and whether getting beyond the vain Russ wasn't some sort of test. While I finished the novel, I also said at its conclusion "You've got to be kidding me." I learned from the review in the NYT, which I had saved for after my own reading, that this is the first in a trilogy and I must say it made me glum. I fear Marion's story is now spent which leaves the rather bitchy only daughter and the feckless older son. As I say in my headline, I wish I liked this better. If, like me, you were hoping for a kind of return to the brilliance that a novel like "Freedom" offered (if "Purity", alas, did not) well, you, too, might feel as though you need to keep on looking. I know that's what I feel.