Crossroads

by Franzen, Jonathan

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Summary
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.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "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."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's 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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Additional Information
Subjects Literature
Fiction
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux2021
Language English
ISBN 9780374719791