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Crossroads
by Jonathan Franzen
Book Jacket
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780374181178 This first novel in an ambitious trilogy tracks a suburban Chicago family in a time of personal and societal turmoil. It says a lot that, at almost 600 pages, Franzen’s latest novel, set amid the waning years of the Vietnam War, leaves you wanting more. That it does so is also very good news: It’s the first in what promises to be a sprawling trilogy, continuing to the present day, which the author has titled A Key to All Mythologies in what is presumably a wink at its far-from-modest ambitions—yes, la Middlemarch. That reference is classic Franzen, who imbues his books with big ideas, in this case about responsibility to family, self, God, country, and one’s fellow man, among other matters, all the while digging deep into his characters’ emotions, experiences, desires, and doubts in a way that will please readers seeking to connect to books heart-first. Here, the story follows two generations of the Hildebrandt family, headed by Russ, the associate pastor of a church in the fictional town of New Prospect, Illinois, who, when we first meet him in the lead-up to Christmas 1971, is nursing a crush on a recently widowed parishioner and a grudge against the groovily charismatic leader of the church’s popular youth group, Crossroads, in which three of Russ’ four children are variously involved. Russ’ wife, Marion, who has gained weight over the years and lost her pre-maternal intensity and with it her husband’s sexual interest, is nursing a few secret preoccupations of her own, as are the couple’s three oldest children, Clem, Becky, and Perry. Each of the five characters, among whose perspectives Franzen adroitly toggles, is struggling with matters of morality and integrity, privilege and purpose, driven in part by the dueling desires for independence and connection. Their internal battles—to fight in an unjust war or unjustly let others fight in your stead, to fight their way out of a marriage or fight to stay in it, to fight for sanity or surrender to madness, to fight to define themselves and determine their paths or to cede that control to others, to name a few—are set against the backdrop of an era in which “love” is everywhere but empathy is in short supply, where hugs are liberally dispensed but real connection’s harder to come by. Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Book list From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission. 9780374181178 A small Midwestern town during the height of the Vietnam era is the setting for Franzen’s masterful, Tolstoyan saga of an unhappy family. Members of the dysfunctional Hildebrandt clan are deeply flawed, insecure, cringe-inducingly self-destructive, and, in Franzen’s psychologically astute rendering, entirely authentic and human. Russ, the patriarch, is a woefully uncool associate pastor at a small-town church, embarrassed by his dowdy wife, Marion, as he lusts after a newly arrived, sexy young widow. Marion, meanwhile, still holds onto the inspiration for a youthful indiscretion that led to an emotional breakdown. Neither pays much attention to their children. Idealistic eldest son Clem dropped out of college to fight in Vietnam and follow his conscience. Daughter Becky draws everyone into her orbit but feels insubstantial compared to brilliant younger brother Perry, who turns to pharmaceuticals to stem his raging inner storm. Franzen adroitly portrays eternal generational conflicts as early idealism gives way to resigned reality and dreams fade into dull acceptance. This masterpiece of social realism vividly captures each character’s internal conflicts as a response to and a reflection of societal expectations, while Franzen expertly explores the fissions of domestic life, mining the rich mineral beneath the sediments of familial discord. In this first volume of a promised trilogy, Franzen is in rarified peak form. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Big news: not only has Franzen, master of substantial fiction, delivered his first new novel since Purity (2015), he is also launching a major literary trilogy.
Library Journal (c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780374181178 Written between 1960 and 1990, John Updike's "Rabbit" series reflected on the fluidity of U.S. culture and the puncturing of American exceptionalism. Similarly, Franzen introduces the Hildebrandts, a Chicago family struggling to navigate cultural revolution and the Vietnam War, in the first volume of a trilogy that will trace generations of this family up to the 21st century. Though the story centers on Russ, a depressed assistant pastor dwelling on his perceived humiliation by a colleague, the narrative constellates among his wife Marion, burdened by traumatic past, and their three children: college-age Clem, popular high schooler Becky, and brilliant but troubled Perry. Each member of the family struggles with a nagging sense of emptiness and searches for an authentic sense of self through adultery, drugs, religion, or war. As in The Corrections, Franzen pens complex, densely layered characters with backstories that require the narrative to jump backward and forward in time, with America's heartland functioning as a stage upon which the tension between enduring values and societal change is enacted. VERDICT Much like Updike, Franzen is keenly aware that human struggle is defined by understanding and acceptance and that it is generational, ideas he admirably captures here.—Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY
Publishers Weekly (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved 9780374181178 Franzen (Purity) returns with a sweeping and masterly examination of the shifting culture of early 1970s America, the first in a trilogy. The action is centered on the small Illinois town of New Prospect, where the each of the Hildebrandts is experiencing a sea change. The father, Russ, is an associate minister at First Reformed Church and has developed an illicit attraction to a new parishioner, the widow Frances Cottrell, whose zest for life makes Russ feel a renewed sense of his “edge.” Russ is also embroiled in a yearslong feud with Rick Ambrose, who runs the church’s youth organization, Crossroads. Clem, Russ’s oldest son, is at college and having a sexual awakening with his girlfriend, Sharon, who pleads with him not to drop out and lose his deferment (“I’m going to do whatever they want me to do, which probably means Vietnam,” he says, referencing his low lottery number). Becky, Clem’s younger sister, inherits a large sum of money from an aunt and isn’t sure if she should share it with her brothers, especially Perry, the youngest, who is brilliant but cold and self-medicates with weed and ’ludes. All of the characters’ sections are convincingly rendered, and perhaps best of all are those narrated by Russ’s wife, Marion, who had a psychotic breakdown 30 years earlier that she is just starting to come to terms with. As complications stack up for the Hildebrandts, they each confront temptation and epiphany, failure and love. Throughout, Franzen exhibits his remarkable ability to build suspense through fraught interpersonal dynamics. It’s irresistible. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (Oct.)
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. This first novel in an ambitious trilogy tracks a suburban Chicago family in a time of personal and societal turmoil.It says a lot that, at almost 600 pages, Franzens latest novel, set amid the waning years of the Vietnam War, leaves you wanting more. That it does so is also very good news: Its the first in what promises to be a sprawling trilogy, continuing to the present day, which the author has titled A Key to All Mythologies in what is presumably a wink at its far-from-modest ambitionsyes, la Middlemarch. That reference is classic Franzen, who imbues his books with big ideas, in this case about responsibility to family, self, God, country, and ones fellow man, among other matters, all the while digging deep into his characters emotions, experiences, desires, and doubts in a way that will please readers seeking to connect to books heart-first. Here, the story follows two generations of the Hildebrandt family, headed by Russ, the associate pastor of a church in the fictional town of New Prospect, Illinois, who, when we first meet him in the lead-up to Christmas 1971, is nursing a crush on a recently widowed parishioner and a grudge against the groovily charismatic leader of the churchs popular youth group, Crossroads, in which three of Russ four children are variously involved. Russ wife, Marion, who has gained weight over the years and lost her pre-maternal intensity and with it her husbands sexual interest, is nursing a few secret preoccupations of her own, as are the couples three oldest children, Clem, Becky, and Perry. Each of the five characters, among whose perspectives Franzen adroitly toggles, is struggling with matters of morality and integrity, privilege and purpose, driven in part by the dueling desires for independence and connection. Their internal battlesto fight in an unjust war or unjustly let others fight in your stead, to fight their way out of a marriage or fight to stay in it, to fight for sanity or surrender to madness, to fight to define themselves and determine their paths or to cede that control to others, to name a feware set against the backdrop of an era in which love is everywhere but empathy is in short supply, where hugs are liberally dispensed but real connections harder to come by. Franzens intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly upliftingin a word, exquisite. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Book list From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission. 9780374181178 A small Midwestern town during the height of the Vietnam era is the setting for Franzen’s masterful, Tolstoyan saga of an unhappy family. Members of the dysfunctional Hildebrandt clan are deeply flawed, insecure, cringe-inducingly self-destructive, and, in Franzen’s psychologically astute rendering, entirely authentic and human. Russ, the patriarch, is a woefully uncool associate pastor at a small-town church, embarrassed by his dowdy wife, Marion, as he lusts after a newly arrived, sexy young widow. Marion, meanwhile, still holds onto the inspiration for a youthful indiscretion that led to an emotional breakdown. Neither pays much attention to their children. Idealistic eldest son Clem dropped out of college to fight in Vietnam and follow his conscience. Daughter Becky draws everyone into her orbit but feels insubstantial compared to brilliant younger brother Perry, who turns to pharmaceuticals to stem his raging inner storm. Franzen adroitly portrays eternal generational conflicts as early idealism gives way to resigned reality and dreams fade into dull acceptance. This masterpiece of social realism vividly captures each character’s internal conflicts as a response to and a reflection of societal expectations, while Franzen expertly explores the fissions of domestic life, mining the rich mineral beneath the sediments of familial discord. In this first volume of a promised trilogy, Franzen is in rarified peak form. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Big news: not only has Franzen, master of substantial fiction, delivered his first new novel since Purity (2015), he is also launching a major literary trilogy.