Read: Purity: a novel by Jonathan Frazen


Jonathan Franzen is a favorite of mine. With each consecutive novel, I love his writing and storytelling even more. Purity: a novel delves into a very different family story, which compliments the narratives of Freedom and The corrections, providing yet another take on the makeup and dynamics of the American family. With each of these three novels, Frazen focuses on different life milestones: aging parents, marriage drifting apart, and now all-consuming first love.

One of the main reasons that I enjoy Franzen is his writing style. This novel feels lighter and more easy-going than his other novels, although it is just as serious and thought out. It is more readable, which is a term I like to use because to me it feels really descriptive but perhaps it is not entirely clear to everyone what I mean. His word choice and pacing of the story are so well done that despite its large size it reads very quickly. One sentence pulls you along to the next, and the plot entices you to continue to read on even if it is quite late at night.  There is also a lot of action in the story, including a murder which I believe is new to a friends a novel, although I haven’t read his early ones. Usually his characters are just dealing with life as it comes or recanting the past but there is a lot of present conveyed as each character gets a chance to tell their own piece of the broader story.

Another reason is the depth of his characters. He really considers and conveys multiple, interesting aspects as he writes about his characters in such a way that it truly makes them feel real. Well the main character, who the entire story revolves around her origin, is a young millennial girl who has taken out $130,000 worth of student that could read on the surface as a boring person to write a novel about but the way in which he crafts her personality, quirks, and flaws makes her human instead of a caricature that she could have ended up being from less skilled writer. Throughout the novel, Purity matures with each experience and as she learns about her past, showing how much she has grown as well as her understanding of the world at still such a young age. The same can be said about the rest of the cast of characters. In a way, this reads like a non-fiction account of crazy yet plausible events and family life, with all of the joys and complications.

Franzen always writes amazing stories about family dynamics, but he has truly outdone himself with Purity. The plot itself seems very disparate and yet pieces begin to link up with each passing chapter, slowly but surely and by the very end it has all come together into one integrated tapestry. At first it seemed a little hokey that everything would fit in so neatly but as the story unfolds, the motivations and actions of characters become more clear and understandable. However, it is the ending that is truly moving and like no other that I have read. It is my favorite of all time and will stay with me into the future. What a feat!
Recommended?: Yes! If you have ever wanted to read a Jonathan Franzen novel, this is the one to start with. His other novels, or at least the two previous, are more literary and somewhat more challenging reads. In addition, he offers a lot of commentary on the current workings of the world, the media, and the obtrusiveness of the Internet in our everyday lives. It is a very timely novel, relevant to today on many levels. Even if you don’t want to read a Franzen novel or perhaps weren’t such a big fan of a previous work of his, you should still read this book. It is a great one and such a treat! I most likely will read this one again, which is something I rarely say.

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