I have always liked Franzen’s novels and I went to hear him speak once at a Writer’s Festival event.
Here’s the blurb …
Jonathan Franzen’s gift for wedding depth and vividness of character with breadth of social vision has never been more dazzlingly evident than in Crossroads.
It’s December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless–unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
Jonathan Franzen’s novels are celebrated for their unforgettably vivid characters and for their keen-eyed take on contemporary America. Now, in Crossroads, Franzen ventures back into the past and explores the history of two generations. With characteristic humor and complexity, and with even greater warmth, he conjures a world that resonates powerfully with our own.
A tour de force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense, its action largely unfolding on a single winter day, Crossroads is the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis. Jonathan Franzen’s gift for melding the small picture and the big picture has never been more dazzlingly evident.
Once again it was a very long book, but I enjoyed it. I liked the switch in perspectives (although I intensely disliked Russ). I think Franzen writes like a woman, which I mean as a compliment and he might take as a criticism, his novels focus on families, and relationships and to my mind seem character rather than plot driven. I look forward to the next two.
After having enjoyed Freedom, this one was a must read. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Freedom – the characters weren’t as appealing – although I did get the same sense of an America not normally described in novels.
Here is the blurb …
After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man-or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.
Franzen has the ability to write from quite varying viewpoints; from Enid wilfully refusing to acknowledge her husband’s descent into madness (if only he would do his exercises he would be OK), to Chip who seems determined to destroy every opportunity that comes his way, and Alfred in his madness (which from Alfred’s point of view seems to make sense). This creates sympathy for a cast of characters and I was interested in their ‘trials and tribulations’.
The narrative shifts around in both time and view point allowing the story to unfold slowly – a technique that seems to be quite popular of late Maggie O’Farrell did something similar in The Hand That First Held Mine. I like it. I like having my opinions about particular characters challenged when I read their version of events.