Sunday, November 6, 2022

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen


The Hildebrandt family is a typical one of the 1970's.  They live in a suburb outside of Chicago where Russ, the father, is an associate pastor.  Marion is his wife who has been a stay at home mom to the family, supporting her husband in his job and their children in their childhood.  Clem is the oldest child.  He is in his freshman year at college where he has discovered both sex and philosophical discussions about what is moral and where should a person make a stand.  Becky is the queen bee of her high school, pretty and popular.  Perry is a year behind Becky in school, an acknowledged genius.  The youngest son is ten and a typical kid.  They seem like a perfect family.

But poke behind the scenes a bit and everything looks different.  Russ and Marion are estranged and thinking about a divorce.  Russ feels slighted at the church where a teenage ministry he started, Crossroads, has been taken over by a younger, more hip minister.  He also feels slighted because he has only slept with one woman in his life, Marion, and is making plans to change that fact.  Clem is disillusioned with college and his student deferment which has kept him from Viet Nam and abruptly gives up his scholarship and leaves college.  Becky is tired of being the virtuous pastor's daughter and is exploring the counterculture while Perry is selling drugs to other school kids, even those as young as the seventh grade while developing a drug habit of his own.  All of these issues explode over a year of family life and everything will be different at the end.

I've read pretty much everything Jonathan Franzen has written and this novel is probably my favorite.  It is more approachable than some of his earlier work and the characters are more relatable.  The sarcasm that can sometimes overtake Franzen in his work is absent here and the reader is drawn in and retains interest until the end.  Those who grew up in the 1970's will be especially interested in this novel which echoes that time faithfully.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

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