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Crossroads : a novel
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Library Journal Review
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 Review
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.)
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