Purity is my first Jonathan Franzen novel, so I don’t have anything to compare to it. I listened to him speak awkwardly and unintelligibly at BEA about writing from the point of view of a young woman, and since then have witnessed additional public blunderings. Has this guy not received any media coaching? However, as I discussed in a previous post, I did my best to separate Franzen’s reputation from his writing when I read this book.
Jonathan Franzen is an American novelist and essay writer best known for his novel The Corrections which won the National Book Award in 2001 and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. The novel was also a finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, as well as a finalist for the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In addition, he has written four novels, five non-fiction books and numerous essays for publications such as The New Yorker.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Purity introduces us to several characters: a young woman going nowhere whose mother has an unhealthy attachment to her; an ambitious journalist and her invalid husband and editor/lover-in-waiting; and the famous founder of a global organization that leaks secrets. All of the characters wrestle with their identity and how they have or haven’t successfully survived how much their parents messed them up. Each section is from the perspective of a different character, set in the past or present, and gradually reveals to readers how they are connected to other characters they love or lust after, and the ugly secrets that keep them together or apart, for better or for worse.
Although Purity is a character-driven, I liked best the origin story for The Sunlight Project, the secrets organization created by the character, Andreas Wolf, and some of the concepts Jonathan Franzen explores related to technology, identity, celebrity and secrets. It made me want to learn more about Julian Assange and Wikileaks who has got to be the real-life inspiration for Andreas Wolf. But I have to agree with other reviewers that the author has a knack for creating characters that you don’t necessarily like or can relate to, but who have stories that are compelling and grab your attention.
I don’t think I cared about anybody in this book and it’s hard to stay focused reading 500+ pages when you wish certain characters would just shut-up. However, it wasn’t completely unbearable either and the plot kept things interesting enough to motivate me to finish Purity.
I survived the Franziness! Purity is one heck of a roller-coaster ride of emotions as characters indulge in destructive patterns of behaviour and get lost in their longing to be known and loved by others to make-up for their parents’ failures or outright weirdness. Jonathan Franzen can be a little long-winded and at times I found it mesmerizing, other times dizzying. Overall, I found the book satisfying and evidence that he is talented and the work can stand for itself. I think Laura’s mom put it best: “… if you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you will like.” And I liked it enough to know I’ll probably pick-up another Jonathan Franzen novel in the future.