Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen [6/10]

Jonathan Franzen is one of my heroes. The Corrections was magnificent, Freedom excited, and Purity intrigued. Franzen’s birdwatching-oriented nature and climate change essays have changed my life. Now we have ”Crossroads,” a first blockbuster in a projected trilogy, set in the dissatisfied lives on one family, the Hildebrandts of New Prospect, Illinois in the early 70s, smack at the crossroads of traditional America and the flower power and protest era. And more: patriarch Russ Hildebrandt is a pastor of the First Reformed church and at the heart of the novel is the church’s youth group called Crossroads. One way or another, the entire Hildebrandt family explores morality and unease within Crossroads. Russ is a moralist with philandering in mind; wife Marion is an angelic “pastor’s wife” with dark secrets; eldest son Clem questions it all; daughter Becky is popular but unsure of her role in the world; and whizkid Perry is spinning out of control. The 600 pages of Crossroads unspools with Franzen’s typical mastery of scenic description and internal monologue and situational evocation, and the novel’s central preoccupation with morality should inspire a riveting plot, but, at least for this reader, the reading experience was interesting without becoming arresting. Of all the characters, only the two young males clawed a way into my heart, and the nimble prose never approaches the modernistic lyricism that the author displayed in The Corrections. In humble summation, then, Crossroads shows Franzen in fine mastery of the novel, but without invigorating purpose.

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