First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
It’s December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless – unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother, Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the other threatens to complicate.
Jonathan Franzen’s novels are celebrated for their unforgettably vivid characters and for their keen-eyed take on contemporary America. Now, in Crossroads, Franzen ventures back into the past and explores the history of two generations. With characteristic humor and complexity, and with even greater warmth, he conjures a world that resonates powerfully with our own.
A tour de force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense, its action largely unfolding on a single winter day, Crossroads is the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis. Jonathan Franzen’s gift for melding the small picture and the big picture has never been more dazzlingly evident.
Happy Friday everyone! The weekends are waving! Time to unwind and relax. But before that, I hope you had a great week. If not, I hope you find time to rest, relax, and recuperate this weekend. The pandemic has certainly redefined how we view the weekends. Pre-pandemic, it was a time to go out for adventures; I often look forward to the weekends as it allowed me to go beach bumming or mountain climbing. My weekends used to be very physically active. Now, weekends are mere rest days, spent to finish uncompleted chores. I have also been using the weekends to catch up on my reading and blogging backlogs. I hope that things are doing great for you as well. I pray that you are all doing well, in body, mind, and spirit. I fervently hope and pray for this pandemic to end soon.
Before I can sashay into the weekend, let me close the work week with a new First Impression Friday update. Ever since the year started, I have been focusing on reading books published in 2021 because I was unable to read them last year. Maybe reading more “new” books should be part of my 2022 reading resolutions. The reading journey has been successful, so far. It has also been interesting, a mix of books about books and books about history. The eclectic mix of books made sure that I am not bored. The combination of familiar and unfamiliar writers gave my reading journey a distinct texture. With this journey, I have slowly regained the reading momentum I have lost towards the end of 2021. I am currently reading Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Crossroads.
Crossroads is my second novel by Jonathan Franzen and my 16th read for the year. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on reading Crossroads. My first Franzen novel, Freedom, was tedious and barely impressed me. It was also the reason why The Corrections remains shelved. However, Crossroads has been eliciting positive feedback and reviews. These reviews did not escape my notice, and, in the end, I relented. In a manner of speaking, I wanted to give Franzen’s prose a second chance. I have been giving a lot of second chances lately. So far, my response has been mixed.
One of the things that stands out about the book is its heft. It is nearly 600 pages long, which is not much of an issue considering that I have read about four or five books that are longer than 500 pages. It was still intimidating because Freedom was as thick as Crossroads. I am afraid I will have the same experience. Within the first few pages, Franzen reminded me of his brand of prose. The long paragraphs and the straightforward sentences transported me to late 2019 when I was reading Freedom. Is it a bad sign? Not really, at least so far. Set in the 1970s, the heart of the story is an American family living in suburban Chicago. The patriarch, Russ, is a pastor at First Reform church in (fictional) New Prospect, Illinois. His wife, Marion, has been a capable partner in raising their children – Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson. The titular Crossroads pertain to the church’s youth group formed by Ambrose.
As the novel moved forward, the book’s heft came as no surprise. Franzen created a detailed backstory for each member of the family. We learn about their concerns, from sexual to political ideologies – discourses on the Vietnam War have entered the campuses – to simply falling in love. I have made it as far as Marion’s story. She has a dark past, which Franzen was very generous in discussing. Her past slowly manifested in the present. As per the synopsis, her marriage with Russ was falling at the seams. This is something I have to look forward to for I haven’t gotten to the part where Franzen gave Russ’ backstory. It would also help me understand the crux of the situation if I understand the circumstances upon which they met. I already have Marion’s point-of-view and to make it complete, I need Russ.
Crossroads, I have already surmised, does not only refer to the Church’s youth group but also to the intersections that the characters will have to navigate. With 400-pages more to go, I have a lot of time to decipher the crossroads the characters have reached, particularly the crossroads Russ and Marion have found themselves in. Their children’s stories, so far, come across as distractions from the main storyline. I may be wrong though. Their backstories made the novel seem longer than it should. But I am hoping that Franzen tidies up all the details as the story concludes, that all the character’s individual threads come full circle. As I have said, I have quite a long way to go but I am hoping to finish the book over the weekend. It might not be possible but my fingers are crossed. What captured my attention was the synopsis’ reference to the family member’s quest for freedom. Freedom again? I just hope the book is better than the last Franzen I read.
The book seems to cover a myriad of subjects; it has explored mental health, grooming, religion, the Vietnamese War, and romance already. A work of American literature, I can only assume that politics will eventually be woven into the complex tapestry. My fear is that the book will crumble under the weight of its ambition. I am hoping not. How about you fellow reader? What book are you digging into the weekend? I hope you are enjoying it. For now, happy reading, and have a happy weekend!