Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Review: "The Twenty Seventh City" by Jonathan Franzen5
Jonathan Franzen’s first novel, The Twenty Seventh City is a far cry from what most people have come to expect from this modern day icon of Western Literature, and that makes this early work something akin to great because of and not in spite of this quality. The family elements are still there, both painful to watch and frightfully close to the reality of most people, as well as the keen eye for the messy human condition, were intelligence, opportunity and good will are not the guarantees of success we wish they were. But this book, equal in length to Franzen’s four other novels, reads less like those and more like a user friendly version of a novel more likely to be written by Thomas Pynchon or Robert Coover, with a grand sense of paranoia and conspiracy accenting the unfolding family drama in a nice, aesthetically pleasing way, easily making this book my second favorite of his novels, just behind Freedom. The plot is the first sign that this is not an early version of The Corrections. It centers on the town of St. Louis, as the hiring of a new police Chief, S. Jammu, not just an Indian but a female, corresponds with a huge, somewhat vague conspiracy that brought her to power. Business leaders and figureheads all end up supporting her under threats (such as the Radio DJ whose house is peppered with bullets) until one man, the milquetoast Martin Probst, defiant more out of convenience and apprehension than malice. The best parts of the novel deal with the breakdown of the Probst family, as well as the rise and fall of this grand scheme set in motion at the beginning of the novel. With more emotional weight than the books of Pynchon and Coover, along with a snide, slightly cruel and funny ending, this early work by an undisputed modern master is more than just a curiosity: it’s one of his best books.