Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Review: "Purity" by Jonathan Franzen
What a misfire. My feelings on Jonathan Franzen, and is appointed status as America’s leading author, really flip-flopped over the past few years. That title, I feel, should go to a writer like Dave Eggers, who, through interviews, introductions and reviews, seems like a more inclusive literary figure than Franzen, who comes off like a lazy, smart assed college professor who respects nobody but himself. But I still enjoyed his books, of which I have read The Corrections, Strong Motion (both okay) and his most recent novel, Freedom (fantastic). I think they are well-written, come from the heart, and while they may come off as arrogant, they are entertaining and say something important about our modern, ever-changing world. I can’t say the same thing about Purity, his new novel, a book that when it isn’t boring and convoluted, is almost as bad as some of the worst I have read this year. It is less of a catalogue of our culture’s flaws, and more of an experiment gone wrong where a great writer is totally out of his element. The title character is a recent college graduate with mountains of student loan debt, and surrounded by clichés that are painfully funny to read and encounter, and involves her in a plot that is too confusing and not very interesting involving an Edward Snowden like figure. There really isn’t a lot to like here, with one unexpected murder being the book’s highlight. But besides that, there are two of the worst sex scenes I have read in recent memory, and revelations that made me feel cold and impatient, a sense of relief washing over me as I finished the book. I really can’t recommend this book. If you aren’t a fan of his, this book won’t change that. If you are a fan of his, you’ll likely find your way to it eventually, and possibly find the same detached disappointment I did.