You’re thinking, Erin, you haven’t read much in October. And you’re wrong! I read Empire of Pain at a neat 550 and then chased it with Jonathan Franzen’s newest, Crossroads, at 600, and so find myself owing the library A LOT in late fines because I – ridiculously, ambitiously, foolishly – persisted in keeping four other novels waiting on my nightstand that were CLEARLY NOT GOING TO BE READ in their two week loan window, but what, dear reader, do I have to offer the world if not my unrealistic and ill-founded font of never ending hope? (It’s true, I can also offer pie).
And was Franzen’s book ‘worth’ the investment of three weeks and $9.00 in late fines? I don’t know, maybe? Probably? I mean, if it was just straight up library free, then sure. But should you pay for it? Which isn’t that the same as saying should it exist at all because what are books if not to be marketed and BOY DO I DIGRESS tonight.
Right right. So it’s a big, fat American family novel in keeping with Freedom, Purity and The Corrections. This one follows each of the members of the Hildebrandt family (with the notable exception of the youngest, Judson, who is – I gather – too innocent/good/pure to warrant his own narrative voice yet) as they abandon/give up/stray from/wander/fall apart [pick your verb] the good/straight/normal/predictable [pick your adjective] path/journey/role/life [and noun] and instead demonstrate the thousands of ways everyone is failing to live up to any kind of normalized ideal and is instead holding it together on appearance and self proclamation.
The God part of the book was tricky for me as a reader. Dedicated atheist etc, I approach novels assuming the same and what Crossroads pitches isn’t that there is a God necessarily, or that God is the answer, but instead explores how religion functions for individuals and communities in America, and how belief – in this case in God – functions as some kind of anchor, even while the ‘institution’ surrounding that belief is corrupt and decaying.
Set in the 1970s the simplicity in plot where catastrophes can take place because cellphones don’t exist was also charming. And where the yearning for something steady or someone to whom an answer could be demanded is equally resonant.
So yeah. The writing has some really great moments, the characters (particularly Perry) are terrific, and on the whole it’s reasonably interesting. But no, I wouldn’t give up your holidays to read it. Instead, pick a bleak month like early November and have at it.
And sure, ask me why I keep reading Jonathan Franzen novels when every time I end up being like “shrug.” I DON’T KNOW. Dupe for the marketing? Probably. No straight answers tonight, folks.
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