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.)
Named a most anticipated book of the fall by The New York Times, USA Today, Oprah Daily, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Town & Country, The Guardian, Newsday, the Star Tribune, Lit Hub, Los Angeles magazine, Thrillist, The Week, and more…
"The Corrections was a masterpiece, but Crossroads is [Franzen's] finest novel yet . . . He has arrived at last as an artist whose first language, faced with the society of greed, is not ideological but emotional, and whose emotions, fused with his characters, tend more toward sorrow and compassion than rage and self-contempt . . . Crossroads is Franzen’s greatest and most perfect novel to date, but more importantly, it is his most promising: an inexhaustible resource for future novels...” —Frank Guan, Bookforum
“Franzen is a master of rendering the broad sweep of humanity through the (extremely human) minutia of a family. In Crossroads, I felt a frustration and fondness for the Hildebrandts so deep it was almost familial. This is, perhaps, [Franzen’s] greatest skill as a writer . . . What more could a reader ask for, really?” —Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub
"[A] pleasure bomb of a novel . . . New prospects are what keep [Crossroads] so engrossing, each section expanding on and deepening the poignancy of what has come before . . . . Few [writers] can take human contradiction and make it half as entertaining and intimate as Franzen does . . . A magnificent portrait of an American family on the brink of implosion . . . Crossroads is Act I of what’s bound to be an American classic." —Lauren Mechling, Vogue
“A compelling examination of faith, privilege and ambition.” —Time
"[A] funny, sad, unputdownable tapestry of a pastor and his family in the midst of myriad crisesof conscience, religion, and otherwise." —Vanity Fair
“A damn good novel . . . Franzen demonstrates sheer dexterity in terms of both craft and style, empathy and compassion.”—The Sewanee Review
"[Franzen] imbues his books with big ideas, in this case about responsibility to family, self, God, country, and one’s fellow man, among other matters, all the while digging deep into his characters’ emotions, experiences, desires, and doubts in a way that will please readers seeking to connect to books heart-first . . . Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Franzen returns with a sweeping and masterly examination of the shifting culture of early 1970s America, the first in a trilogy . . . Throughout, Franzen exhibits his remarkable ability to build suspense through fraught interpersonal dynamics. It’s irresistible." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[A] masterful, Tolstoian saga . . . Franzen adroitly portrays eternal generational conflicts . . . 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." —Booklist (starred review)
“Franzen pens complex, densely layered characters . . . with America’s heartland functioning as a stage upon which the tension between enduring values and societal change is enacted . . . Franzen is keenly aware that human struggle is defined by understanding and acceptance and that it is generational, ideas he admirably captures here.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“[Franzen] does not disappoint . . . [He writes] with penetrating insight delivered through incisive sentences . . . I can’t wait to read what happens next.” —BookPage (starred 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
This first novel in an ambitious trilogy tracks a suburban Chicago family in a time of personal and societal turmoil.
It says a lot that, at almost 600 pages, Franzen’s latest novel, set amid the waning years of the Vietnam War, leaves you wanting more. That it does so is also very good news: It’s the first in what promises to be a sprawling trilogy, continuing to the present day, which the author has titled A Key to All Mythologies in what is presumably a wink at its far-from-modest ambitions—yes, à la Middlemarch. That reference is classic Franzen, who imbues his books with big ideas, in this case about responsibility to family, self, God, country, and one’s fellow man, among other matters, all the while digging deep into his characters’ emotions, experiences, desires, and doubts in a way that will please readers seeking to connect to books heart-first. Here, the story follows two generations of the Hildebrandt family, headed by Russ, the associate pastor of a church in the fictional town of New Prospect, Illinois, who, when we first meet him in the lead-up to Christmas 1971, is nursing a crush on a recently widowed parishioner and a grudge against the groovily charismatic leader of the church’s popular youth group, Crossroads, in which three of Russ’ four children are variously involved. Russ’ wife, Marion, who has gained weight over the years and lost her pre-maternal intensity and with it her husband’s sexual interest, is nursing a few secret preoccupations of her own, as are the couple’s three oldest children, Clem, Becky, and Perry. Each of the five characters, among whose perspectives Franzen adroitly toggles, is struggling with matters of morality and integrity, privilege and purpose, driven in part by the dueling desires for independence and connection. Their internal battles—to fight in an unjust war or unjustly let others fight in your stead, to fight their way out of a marriage or fight to stay in it, to fight for sanity or surrender to madness, to fight to define themselves and determine their paths or to cede that control to others, to name a few—are set against the backdrop of an era in which “love” is everywhere but empathy is in short supply, where hugs are liberally dispensed but real connection’s harder to come by.
Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite.