Monday, August 24, 2015

Franzen - Love Him or Hate Him?

There's no question that when Jonathan Franzen's name is mentioned, there is a thumbs up or thumbs down reaction - no in-between. I wonder why it is that we as a society love to tear people down? Sure, he ruffled some feathers when he initially refused Oprah's imprimatur for his knock-out novel, "The Corrections," but they finally kissed and made up and the book was more widely read as a result.

Then there was the hoo-ha a few years ago ( when popular novelist Jodi Picoult accused reviewers of favoring white male authors over females who write about the same subject matter. Unfortunately for her argument she referenced Jonathan Franzen. Though I always try to take the feminist side, all things being equal, I can say unequivocally, I've read Jodi Picoult and she is no Jonathan Franzen!

When I received "Purity," Franzen's much anticipated new novel, from my editor at "Library Journal," I was thrilled but nervous. I would be one of the first reviewers wading into the fray because LJ writes for pre-publication. Librarians need to know how many copies to order well ahead of the release day based upon informed guesses of what the demand will be. If the book is a flop, will I have the guts to say that the emperor has no clothes?

In this case I didn't have to worry.  "The Corrections" will probably always be my favorite book simply because there were scenes in that novel that were stolen right from our family dinner table. As for "Purity," I felt that his editor could have used her pen a lot more often, especially when it involved the sexual relationship between Pip, our heroine, and Andreas, the anti-hero and CEO of the Sunlight Project. Rather than reinvent the wheel I'm just going to share with you the review that was published in the August 1st edition of "Library Journal."

 Does anyone have truly pure intentions, or are most people motivated by their own needs and desires? This is one of the questions posed by Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom) in his provocative new novel, a book rich with characters searching for roots and meaning in a world of secrets and lies. Pip (Purity) Tyler is burdened with college debt, a minimum-wage job, and a needy yet withholding mother who lives as a recluse under an assumed name. The identity of Pip’s father is a taboo subject. Enter the shadowy, Julian Assange–like CEO of the Sunlight Project, Andreas Wolf, purveyor of all the Internet’s hidden truths. With less than pure objectives, Wolf offers Pip a researcher position at his South American headquarters. An improbable sexual cat-and-mouse game between them causes a temporary drag in the narrative, but once Pip returns stateside and is embedded in the offices of an online journal, Franzen reveals moments of absolute genius. The cathartic power of tennis; the debilitating effects of jealousy; the fickle, fleeting nature of fame; and the slow death of youthful idealism are all beautifully captured. Verdict National Book Award winner Franzen, who often decries the state of our increasingly materialistic, high-tech society via his essays and novels, this time proffers a more hopeful, sympathetic worldview. Demand will be high. [See Prepub Alert, 3/9/15.]—Sally ­Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

What a relief when I opened the "Washington Post Book World" this weekend to see that my favorite reviewer, Ron Charles, felt the same way that I did. It's always gratifying to see your judgment shared by someone you admire. How about you readers? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

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