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Purity by Jonathan Franzen (2015)

purityPurity 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.

THE AUTHOR
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

THE BOOK
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.

THE GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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.

CONCLUSION
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.

4/5 Stars

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13 comments on “Purity by Jonathan Franzen (2015)

  1. arianna81
    October 7, 2015

    Glad to hear you liked it! I am still up in the air about whether I want to read this. My experience with him had been, in this order: hmmm, not bad, and blech for the most part. (The “hmmm” being The Corrections, which I wish I remembered better!) It is good you tried to dissociate the writer from the man, too. Anyway, your review has me reconsidering my thoughts on whether I’ll try to get to this one – thank you for such a thorough & considered reflection!

    Like

  2. arianna81
    October 7, 2015

    (This was Arianna from Shelf Notes by the way (hi!) but I couldn’t get it to log me in with that account.)

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 10, 2015

      Hi, how are you? Stupid WordPress! It’s also giving me a hard time and won’t show my gravatar when I comment. My understanding is this book is a departure from The Corrections and other Franzen books. I think the 50 pages test would be helpful here because you can definitely get a sense of what the story is going to be about and pass on it if it’s not your thing.

      Like

  3. Brian Joseph
    October 8, 2015

    Great commentary.

    I tend to like unlikable characters. I also often am not bothered by verbose writers as I sometimes find that is the result of creativity in style.

    I have not read Franzen but I really want to.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 10, 2015

      I was surprised at how I didn’t have warm feelings about the characters, but I still was interested in their stories and how things turned out for them. Well, it looks like Laura may be hosting a Franzen event, so that may be a good chance to finally read Franzen’s work.

      Like

  4. Naomi
    October 8, 2015

    I think I’ve already decided not to read this book. I commented on one of Laura’s posts about how I thought I hadn’t read The Corrections, only to discover in my notes, that I had. But, I don’t remember it at all. Not a good sign, and so many books to read. After 500+ pages, I’m glad you liked it!
    And, I love Laura’s Mom’s quote. 🙂

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 10, 2015

      No, not remembering a book that big is definitely not a good sign. But it looks like Laura didn’t remember *not* reading it as well! I want to read The Corrections next.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lauratfrey
    October 8, 2015

    I will have to tell my mom to start a blog. She’s got lots of weird sayings like that.

    CJ I think we should do Franzen in February and only read Franzen and/or books he has personally endorsed.

    The farther I get into City on Fire, the more I see it is at the same structure as Purity, multiple perspectives that come together eventually… but dare I say… I think COF is doing a better job. It’s still too damn long though.

    Who did you want to shut up the most? My fav character was Pip, which is weird, usually she’s the kind of character I don’t like.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 10, 2015

      Pip was okay. But Pip’s mom (I’ve forgotten her name already) and Tom drove me bananas. I was hoping they would die because they were the worst. I’m totally all for a Franzen in Febraury! Then I have no excuse not to read The Corrections. Have any bloggers reviewed COF yet? I haven’t seen anything.

      Like

  6. AmberBug
    October 13, 2015

    Haha, I adore the comment, “Has this guy not received any media coaching? “, that make me laugh at work, thanks!

    Haven’t started this one but it’s sitting on the shelf, I’ll get to it… sometime.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 14, 2015

      If Franzen received media training, he’s totally failing his coaches! Look forward to hearing what you think of the book when you get around to reading it.

      Like

  7. DoingDewey
    October 14, 2015

    I hate books where there aren’t any characters I can root for, so I think I’m unlikely to pick up a book this long given that!

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 14, 2015

      I’m still figuring out how I feel about investing time in characters I don’t care about. I do feel I got something out of the book. It was an interesting story,

      Like

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This entry was posted on October 7, 2015 by in Reviews and tagged , .

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