website statistics Crossroads - PDF Books Online
Hot Best Seller

Crossroads

Availability: Ready to download

Jonathan Franzen's gift for wedding depth and vividness of character with breadth of social vision has never been more dazzlingly evident than in Crossroads. 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, Jonathan Franzen's gift for wedding depth and vividness of character with breadth of social vision has never been more dazzlingly evident than in Crossroads. 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 others 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.


Compare

Jonathan Franzen's gift for wedding depth and vividness of character with breadth of social vision has never been more dazzlingly evident than in Crossroads. 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, Jonathan Franzen's gift for wedding depth and vividness of character with breadth of social vision has never been more dazzlingly evident than in Crossroads. 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 others 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.

30 review for Crossroads

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Franzen is still aiming to craft the perfect Great American Novel, and he is just the guy for it: His new trilogy (of which "Crossroads" is only the first part) should probably be read with his infamous essay "Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels" in mind. While dissecting the roots of the crisis of the novel (an argument that had several connections to DFW's Infinite Jest and his essay "E Unibus Pluram", and we'll come back to that later), Franzen stated that he wan Franzen is still aiming to craft the perfect Great American Novel, and he is just the guy for it: His new trilogy (of which "Crossroads" is only the first part) should probably be read with his infamous essay "Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels" in mind. While dissecting the roots of the crisis of the novel (an argument that had several connections to DFW's Infinite Jest and his essay "E Unibus Pluram", and we'll come back to that later), Franzen stated that he wanted to write the book to overcome it, a compelling, socially relevant, realist text that underlines what a novel can and other media can't do, a book that offers strong characters with lots of psychological depth. The essay was first published in 1996, so before Franzen headed for literary world domination with bangers like The Corrections and Freedom. While I felt slightly let down by his last effort, Purity, I feel like this new trilogy, ladies and gentlemen, is the work he announced in 1996: The key to all mythologies (modestly named after a tract in Middlemarch). As can be expected from Franzen, "Crossroads" is an American family epic that gathers its strength from all-too-plausible psychological writing, and the psychogram of the characters hints at the mind and state of the country as a whole. Our protagonists are the members of the Hildebrandt family, patriarch Russ is a second pastor at First Reform church in (fictional) New Prospect, Illinois. It's right before Christmas 1971, the Vietnam war is raging, the hippie movement is flourishing. While Russ is having a feud with the more popular youth pastor, his marriage to Marion (who harbors a dark secret) is falling apart. Clem, the eldest son, wants to drop out of college and fight in Vietnam, his popular sister Becky is falling in love and trying to find her own identity, brother Perry is having a drug problem, and the enigmatic younger Judson will probably become the star of a later installment. "Crossroads" (while also an obvious metaphor) is the name of the church's youth group, that becomes an ego battleground while also (seriously and/or outwardly) tackling questions of how to craft a better society. So much for the larger plot lines, but what makes the text is how the aformentioned psychological writing ponders larger themes without spelling them out: This is essentially a book about morality, about the discrepancy between outward appearances and inward urges, about - wait for it - virtue signaling, deplatforming, old white men, cultural appropriation (Robert Johson's "Cross Road Blues" is covered by Cream, as mentioned in the text), and social movements (here especially the anti-war movement, the hippie movement, and charity initiatives for Black and Native American communities) as reputation-enhancing lifestyle choices. My guess: This line will, in later parts of the trilogy, lead straight to discussions about identiy politics (and, in the backgrund, its impact on literature). That does not mean that Franzen condemns these characters; he just shows them as deeply flawed, ambiguous people who grapple with their frail humanity, who aim for status in the world, who want to be someone, but (mostly) also want be good, which isn't always easy to balance out, because, suprise, the world is unfair, and society's standards are often crap, even if the declared ideals aren't. Franzen himself hails from Illinois, and his late friend David Foster Wallace, who grew up in Illinois (close to Urbana, which features in "Crossroads"; he studied in Arizona, which also plays an important part in the book), comes to mind when pondering the themes of the novel. What would DFW have said to these issues? It's like the spirit of his writing is lurking between the lines of "Crossroads". Lastly, one important thing needs to be mentioned: This novel is tremendous fun to read, it's utterly absorbing, driven by fascinating, complex characters. The focus shifts from one member of the Hildebrandt family to the other, and all of them are equally interesting. I can't wait to read part II and III.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Terrific first book of a trilogy- a series in the making… Loved the characterization, the social and psychological aspects of humanity and history … A BIG FAMILY STORY… looking at goodness, morality, faith, God, religion, covering intimate themes galore… Marriage, parenthood, sibling individuality, sibling relationships, love sex, boyfriends, girlfriends, infatuations, adultery, humiliation, coming-of-age, drugs, music, Church, a religious youth group, …. and as Bob Dylan might have said…. Times, th Terrific first book of a trilogy- a series in the making… Loved the characterization, the social and psychological aspects of humanity and history … A BIG FAMILY STORY… looking at goodness, morality, faith, God, religion, covering intimate themes galore… Marriage, parenthood, sibling individuality, sibling relationships, love sex, boyfriends, girlfriends, infatuations, adultery, humiliation, coming-of-age, drugs, music, Church, a religious youth group, …. and as Bob Dylan might have said…. Times, they were a change-in. The writing is stellar…. Say whatever you want about your thoughts about Franzen … his writing is exceptional…. As Philip Roth, John Updike, were, Jonathan Franzen … is a powerful - contemporary American great novelist. I have pages of notes but honestly what I really want to say is how much I enjoyed it— A buddy read with Violet Wells. I’ll leave one small excerpt now before my morning walk. “Almost everything in life was vanity—success a vanity, privilege a vanity, Europe a vanity, beauty a vanity. When you stripped away the vanity and stood alone before God, what was left? Only loving your neighbor as yourself. Only worshiping the Lord, Sunday after Sunday. Even if you lived for eighty years, the duration of a life was infinitesimal, your eighty years of Sunday’s were over in a blink. Life had no length; only in depth was there salvation”.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Really loved it, and was surprised by it, and am excited to hear what people think of it. It has its strange moments, and some regressive ones, but also incredible sequences, and the Marion character, specifically, fascinated me. Franzen has a knack for intertwined family novels, and this one, while not up to the level of THE CORRECTIONS, is great. Excited for part 2!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Violet wells

    This novel might easily be titled The Lying life of Adults. Like Ferrante's novel it's about a dysfunctional family. For me Ferrante's novel was better, more pressing and incisive, closer to the heart and I began to ask myself if I found it a better novel simply because I'm European and not American and so could relate more intimately with Ferrante's world. There are moments on the news here when you realise how out of kilter America and Europe have become. Mostly this has to do with how politic This novel might easily be titled The Lying life of Adults. Like Ferrante's novel it's about a dysfunctional family. For me Ferrante's novel was better, more pressing and incisive, closer to the heart and I began to ask myself if I found it a better novel simply because I'm European and not American and so could relate more intimately with Ferrante's world. There are moments on the news here when you realise how out of kilter America and Europe have become. Mostly this has to do with how politicised Christianity has become in America. I could understand an American author tackling this topical subject. However, the Christianity in Crossroads is more innocently old school which makes it feel like a very old fashioned environment and novel, the 1970s often seeming more remote in time than the world of The Great Gatsby. Meaning for the characters is sought almost exclusively in sex or Jesus and often the two are confused with each other. Mostly the Christian construction characters put on experience is self-serving. The most mature character in Crossroads often seems the youngest son who is six. The characters are all at times deeply unlikeable in their delusions and vanities and resentments. Not that this doesn't make them engaging. Both parents are posturing as adults; in reality they are both closer to adolescence emotionally. The two elder children didn't hold enough interest for me. Both are stuffy and self-righteous and unable to enjoy their youth as if they can't wait to become immature adults. The adolescent Perry, more interesting and inspiring some of Franzen's best writing, turns to drugs rather than Jesus for meaning and brought the novel more up to date. I can't say Crossroads ever wowed me but I did look forward to reading it every day, more because of the energy and intelligence and insight with which it's written than the subject and environment. A buddy read with lovely Elyse. (I'm still mostly locked out of my account here and apologise that I can't respond to comments. It's super annoying.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andy Marr

    OMG, too LOOOOOOOONG!!!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Violeta

    Two things Jonathan Franzen can’t be accused of: lack of humor and lack of words. This book is teeming with both. His humor is subdued where his loquaciousness is glaring but Franzen is an author who knows where he’s going with both of them. If you trust him enough to go along for the ride the essence of the book will stay with you long after the particulars of the narrative have vanished from memory. I finished this a couple of days ago and already the plot, which comes dangerously close to th Two things Jonathan Franzen can’t be accused of: lack of humor and lack of words. This book is teeming with both. His humor is subdued where his loquaciousness is glaring but Franzen is an author who knows where he’s going with both of them. If you trust him enough to go along for the ride the essence of the book will stay with you long after the particulars of the narrative have vanished from memory. I finished this a couple of days ago and already the plot, which comes dangerously close to that of a soap opera, recedes and the question at the core of the book takes center stage: HOW TO BE GOOD. Halfway into the novel, the middle son of the Hildebrandt family, whose lives and times in the American Midwest of the 1970s Franzen recounts, dares to pose it to both a rabbi and a Lutheran priest: “I suppose what I’m asking,” he said, “is whether goodness can ever truly be its own reward, or whether, consciously or not, it always serves some personal instrumentality.” The Hildebrandt clan consists of a pair of middle-aged parents, three teenagers and a nine year old son. Russ, the paterfamilias, is the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church in fictional New Prospect, Illinois. Their quest for goodness is not only a personal stance, it is preordained by their ties to church and religion. They all strive to open the door to their better selves but the results of their efforts don’t often match their good intentions. They strive to connect and sometimes they do, but more often they don’t, and the bitterness that ensues further entrenches their selfishness. Franzen goes to great pains at describing each member’s said ‘instrumentality’ that, surprise, isn’t very far from that of every other halfway decent human being’s out there. Crossroads is not only the name of the Christian youth group that provides much of the drama in the story, it's also the pivotal point in the Hildebrandts' common history where each one makes life-altering decisions that, whether they like it or not, are informed by those of the others. The inexhaustible drama of being part of a family is Franzen territory and once more he revels in its exploration. I can’t say that the parts of the kids resonated with me as much as those of the parents but I admired the precision with which he dissects his characters. God and sex are all over this book. They serve as these characters’ primary means of finding harmony and making peace with themselves. God is synonymous to peace here and each member has their place where they go looking for Him. In food or drugs, solitary travel or social climbing, a tour of Europe or farming in Peru, in the safety of a green-leafed Midwestern suburb or in the unpredictability of an Indian reservation in the Arizona desert. Religion, morality and -again- sex, are the things these people (save for the nine year old, who is probably due for the royal treatment in a future book) are constantly preoccupied with. They’re trying to reconcile their carnal and spiritual longings, more often than not failing to do so, ending up tormenting themselves, those around them and the occasional reader, with Reverend Russ by far winning the title of Master Torturer. Franzen observes them with a highbrow detachment that I sometimes found hard to digest. The best moments of the book come when he decides to take the plunge into empathy. In between he gets carried away by his excessive attention to trivial details. I’m thinking now, isn’t life just the same? A seemingly endless succession of trivialities interrupted at times, for better or worse, from brief heightened states of consciousness? He’s a writer who aspires to convey the realities of everyday lives; why shouldn’t the pace of his books be the same as that of life? I understand the analogy, I really do. But let me share this: to this day I remember the sensation the last pages of Freedom left me with. I finished that one on a similar November morning in 2010, and the endangered species of the bird that kept popping into that story had also tried my patience. I was sitting at the same table I’m sitting now, in my kitchen, a day filled with the usual chores of a life as ordinary as the lives of Franzen’s heroes. But everything had come to a standstill then, until the last word had been read, and when that was done I found myself sobbing, yes sobbing, and could think of nothing else but the power of those words. Franzen had offered me a few moments of ‘heightened existence’ and a writer that is capable of offering such a cathartic experience will always have my respect. He had done it again, to an extent, in The Corrections but he didn’t do it now. Maybe because the ending wasn’t really an end but a bridge to the next book of the trilogy he (self-mockingly or over-ambitiously) decided to name ‘A Key to All Mythologies.’ Despite my grumbling I look forward to finding out if he manages to get hold of such a key, or if his endeavors will be as self delusional as Rev. Casaubon’s in Middlemarch – or, indeed, as those of his fictional heroes.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Thank God for Jonathan Franzen. His new novel, “Crossroads,” is the first of a planned trilogy modestly called “A Key to All Mythologies.” With its dazzling style and tireless attention to the machinations of a single family, “Crossroads” is distinctly Franzenesque, but it represents a marked evolution, a new level of discipline and even a deeper sense of mercy. This time around, the celebrated chronicler of the Way We Live Now is exploring the Way We Lived Then — notably the early 1970s. And the Thank God for Jonathan Franzen. His new novel, “Crossroads,” is the first of a planned trilogy modestly called “A Key to All Mythologies.” With its dazzling style and tireless attention to the machinations of a single family, “Crossroads” is distinctly Franzenesque, but it represents a marked evolution, a new level of discipline and even a deeper sense of mercy. This time around, the celebrated chronicler of the Way We Live Now is exploring the Way We Lived Then — notably the early 1970s. And the gaping jaw of his earlier novels, capable of swallowing a vast body of cultural trends and commercial ills, has been replaced by a laser-eyed focus on the flutterings of the soul. Before now, “soul” is not a term I would have associated with Franzen, whose brilliant, acerbic work has seemed committed to a purely material concept of human identity. But “Crossroads” feels consumed with the Psalmist’s question, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?” The story revolves around Rev. Russ Hildebrandt, an associate pastor at an active Protestant church in suburban Chicago. When the novel opens, 47-year-old Russ is still smarting from the brutal cancelation of. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Ted

    75th book of 2021. 4.5. This is Franzen's new novel, which will be published 5th October '21. I'll write a short review for this soon but as I read a proof copy, I am not allowed to quote from it yet. Maybe when October rolls around I will return and write a full review as I want to. But for now: Franzen has somehow managed to write a family saga filled with the same old problems but nail it. This was a pleasure to read, a 600-pager that barely falters. Wonderful characters, wonderful dialogue, w 75th book of 2021. 4.5. This is Franzen's new novel, which will be published 5th October '21. I'll write a short review for this soon but as I read a proof copy, I am not allowed to quote from it yet. Maybe when October rolls around I will return and write a full review as I want to. But for now: Franzen has somehow managed to write a family saga filled with the same old problems but nail it. This was a pleasure to read, a 600-pager that barely falters. Wonderful characters, wonderful dialogue, wonderful ideas: drugs and God and identity and most of all, family. Post-publication review, 12/10/21. I've now read 105 books so far this year including some pretty famously (infamously) brilliant ones, Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow, War and Peace, Les Misérables, Middlemarch, etc., but (and it astounds me to say), Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads may still sit in the top 5 books I've read this year so far. As I said above in my pre-publication review, he writes all the things we've seen a thousand times. There's the father who wants to shake up his life a little by having an affair and questions God; there's the probably-brilliant son who gets caught up with drugs; there's the struggling wife; the whole thing is a fairly predictable family saga. What's new? I'm not entirely sure. Crossroads is written with such clarity and warmth that I couldn't resist loving it. Franzen's writing is brilliant but not bowl-you-over literary brilliant, no lines, that I can remember, straight from someone like Joyce or Nabokov, but brilliant all the same. The heart of this book is the characterisation, how every character blooms with every page turned and how utterly real the whole thing is, completely believable. I've been telling everyone I know to read it. I'm flicking through the pages now looking for some underlined quotes to include but there are hardly any, which is rare in a book I claim to love, but I think it proves something about how understated the whole thing is, how subtle, and how it's the closest thing to a literary-page-turner I've read in years. I have no idea where Franzen is going to go with the next two books but I cannot wait already and can already see myself re-reading this before the second comes, and maybe at that point I can write a better review. Frankly, it's hard to say why this book is so good and why it works so well. All I can say is read it: it has some of the best characters, most realistic dialogue/arguments I've read for some time (a bit Revolutionary Road on that front) and Franzen could well be claiming the Great American Novel of this century so far already. Or another way of putting it, read it for its humanity.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Franzen is a master of intricate novels about messed-up families. Crossroads is both eloquent and frustrating. As a reader, my relationship to each character vacillated and deepened as I learned more about their flaws, motivations - and faith. I was most drawn to Marion, and will read the next book in the planned trilogy for her. Franzen writes beautifully and generously but often uses two sentences when one would do. I was more aware of the page count than I like to be in a 500+ page book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    I’ve always loved Jonathan Franzen’s fiction, but Crossroads is on a whole other level, even from contemporary classics like The Corrections and Freedom. It’s one of the most absorbing and probing analyses of the American family that I’ve ever read. And while it’s the first part of a projected trilogy – called, perhaps tongue in cheek, A Key To All Mythologies (a reference to Casaubon’s incomplete opus in Middlemarch) – this novel stands on its own as an intriguing and penetrating look into some I’ve always loved Jonathan Franzen’s fiction, but Crossroads is on a whole other level, even from contemporary classics like The Corrections and Freedom. It’s one of the most absorbing and probing analyses of the American family that I’ve ever read. And while it’s the first part of a projected trilogy – called, perhaps tongue in cheek, A Key To All Mythologies (a reference to Casaubon’s incomplete opus in Middlemarch) – this novel stands on its own as an intriguing and penetrating look into some themes and obsessions that have helped shape America in the last half a century. Franzen eschews plot for a deep dive into one family in the early 70s. It’s two days before Christmas in 1971, and each member of the Hildebrandt family is at a crossroads in his or her life. • Family head Russ is an associate pastor at a church outside Chicago. Still smarting from a situation with a junior colleague that crushed his ego a few years earlier, he’s lusting after a parishioner, a recent widow, who’s joined the church. • Russ’s wife, Marion, knows or suspects what he’s doing. But she’s got her own secrets, which go back decades, some of which she’s told to her psychiatrist, whom nobody knows about. • Oldest son Clem is away at university, and has a girlfriend, but he’s just made a rash decision that will affect his life – and probably devastate his parents – forever. • Clem’s favourite family member, Becky, is one of the most popular girls at high school, and she’s looking forward to university and perhaps a trip to Europe in the summer before college begins. But she’s also caught the eye of a handsome folk singer who plays at the club where she works part-time. • Second-oldest son Perry is a genius but something of a social outsider – until, that is, he joins a youth group at his father’s church. But he’s also a low-level drug dealer, and his experimentation with other substances will either bring him to another level of consciousness or help fuck up his mind. • The youngest, Judson, is a bright, handsome nine-year-old kid. But he’s the only Hildebrandt family member whose POV we don’t have access to. Franzen gets incredibly deep into these people’s lives and minds, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the emergence of the counterculture. They’re all dealing in some way with how to live a good and honourable life. But they’re flawed, blinded by pride, lust, anger, guilt and vanity. Even their acts of charity – be it donating things to inner city churches, building schools for Navajos in the 1940s or simply talking to less popular kids in high school – are complicated by ulterior motives. Despite the line-by-line, page-by-page brilliance of the book, at times I found myself overwhelmed by the intensity of the writing and the unsparing observations. If I have one issue with the book, it’s that it needs some occasional comic relief. There are funny lines – often from Perry’s skewed perspective – but they come in the second half of a very long novel. I love how Franzen tells the story. If there are gaps in someone’s narrative, you may have to wait until another character’s chapter to fill them in. In the first half, Marion has an extremely long chapter in which we dig far, far back into her history. I wondered why Russ didn’t receive similar treatment, but Franzen makes you wait. When his hefty backstory comes, it will change how you feel about him and perhaps make you think differently about how he behaves at the beginning of the book. Will we follow these characters into the next two books? Or will there be others? The idea of ecological destruction crops up subtly, and that is a theme Franzen has dealt with in some of his fiction and a lot of his non-fiction. And I imagine Franzen will look at the rise of the religious right in the 80s and 90s, as well as the current persistent division between red and blue states. One thing is clear, however. I was hoping that Franzen would stick his landing. After so much delving into misery and pain, so much striving after things for morally questionable reasons, I was hoping that he would offer up something transcendent, a moment or two of grace and redemption. He does.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Despite our most recent generation’s mangling and subsequent misappropriation of the word, I’m shocked at how “literally” my daughter takes everything these days. Upon further thought I shouldn’t be that shocked, really; after all, she’s six. To understand the grey areas which fall between the proverbial black and white would simply be too much for her little brain to handle. It hasn’t been without effort, however. Foolhardy endeavor though it may be, my wife and I have been teaching her that al Despite our most recent generation’s mangling and subsequent misappropriation of the word, I’m shocked at how “literally” my daughter takes everything these days. Upon further thought I shouldn’t be that shocked, really; after all, she’s six. To understand the grey areas which fall between the proverbial black and white would simply be too much for her little brain to handle. It hasn’t been without effort, however. Foolhardy endeavor though it may be, my wife and I have been teaching her that all things aren’t just one thing or another. That they can be both. Neither. A mixture of the two. A separate entity altogether. Such is the complexity of the human spirit. And yet we continue to make things more difficult on ourselves by attempting to simplify these complexities. I recall a conversation I recently had with my miserly, change-averse uncle in which he pontificated about “simpler times” and how “things used to be so much more cut and dry.” To whose benefit, I wanted to ask him. But I knew that too would be a foolhardy endeavor. It’s not as if the man didn’t live through some pretty significant eras in which great change – or more accurately, changes – hadn’t occurred. He just didn’t like that change oftentimes exposes us for whom we truly are. Better still, he didn’t like that such change would render us shells of ourselves, would all but force us to adapt and evolve. To me, that’s our greatest trait as humans. And yet there are so many of us who would rather stay the course. Who would prefer two flavors of ice cream rather than the thirty-one Baskin-Robbins has to offer. Who scoff at pronouns. Who thought the internet was a fad. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” people. Problem is, we’ve never not be broken. Humans can always use fixing. And the best part? It’s never too late for repair. All it takes is willingness. Recognition. Desire. Lots and lots of desire. Sure, on paper it sounds easy. But I’m not about to tell you that off paper it’s a simple flick of a switch. Unfortunately, we live in a society where if something doesn’t happen fast enough, it’s not worth our time. What’s more, we live in a society that celebrates stagnancy disguised as comfort. It brings to mind the theme song to Full House in which the singer asked: “what ever happened to predictability?” What’s funny is that given our advancements in technology we’ve become far better equipped for predictability than ever. Funnier even that the show would take place in a such a progressive town (San Fran, for those who aren’t in the know). Yet that was hardly the song’s sentiment; it was a reflection on complacency, a reminiscence of simplicity. But those are just lyrics of a song from an old show. Life itself doesn’t move backwards. We are not Benjamin Button. If anybody, we’re better off taking the advice of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Or we’re better off reading Jonathan Franzen. He, who can distill what’s broken about humans more elegantly than any living writer. He, who can extract the greys from the blacks and whites. He, who understands his characters better than they understand themselves. He, who has written yet another modern classic about life moving pretty fast. With Crossroads, the writer’s first work in half a dozen years, as well as the opening novel of his A Key to All Mythologies trilogy (!!!), one needn’t stop and look around once in a while for fear of missing the life – lives, really – Jonathan Franzen is documenting. It deserves more than a cursory glance, a brisk skim, a distracted scan. It demands full attention and is more than ready to reward whichever readers choose to give it. And you can bet your bottom dollar I gave it all. In return I received love. Hate. Anger. Joy. Faith. Loyalty. Doubt. Hope. Cruelty. All vis a vis a family I immersed myself within as if I were their foster child, so enthralling I found each member I grew attached. It’s a testament to Jonathan Franzen’s innate ability in developing rich, vivid and wholly flawed characters, and making us want, no need, to stop everything in our own lives to catch up with theirs. Which is to say Labor Day Weekend of 2021 may as well have been called the Hildebrandt Holiday. For I found myself not just sneaking in time to read about the family which centers Crossroads; I made time. Neighborhood festival? Sure, but only after I finish this chapter. Barbecue with friends? Let’s push the start time by an hour. Had I nary any responsibilities as a husband and father, I’d have likely devoured the novel’s near-600 pages in half the time I devoted to it. Devotion is key as it pertains to Crossroads. To unpack Franzen’s twisty, twirly passages requires a similar commitment to what the writer has clearly given in creating them. But how else to embody the human spirit and all of its blemishes than by committing to it? There’s a sense of piety in how Franzen describes the Hildebrandts; it’s evident how attached he’d grown to them. Which made it all but impossible for me not to return the favor. It’s not as if I even liked any of the Hildebrandts (save maybe for their most fledgling member, Judson, who’s too young to be affected… yet), but that’s besides the point. In fact, it made Crossroads all the more real, all the more relatable, all the more dazzling. We Are the Brennans it is not. Crossroads begins two days shy of Christmas in 1971, whereupon we’re introduced to the Hildebrandts’ patriarch, Russ, an associate pastor of a suburban Chicago church. Russ has recently been disgraced within his community, and while we’re initially unsure of its impetus it’s difficult not to discern by way of his growing obsession with one of his congregates, the recently widowed (and "FOXY") Frances Cottrell. With Russ, Franzen presents his first of many dichotomous characters; he’s driven both by faith and faithlessness, or at the very least the idea of infidelity. Better still, Russ represents a changing of the guard, so to speak: both within his community where his nemesis, Rick Ambrose, who heads the church youth group (of which the novel’s title is derived), has all but taken over; but also the world as a whole. Because the times they are a-changin’ and Russ is falling woefully behind, despite he and his church’s progressive thoughts and beliefs. Conversely – and perhaps fittingly – it’s his children who find themselves caught up within the counterculture. Yet this acceptance of society’s evolution is less organic than one would assume; it’s just as much a fuck you to the old man as it is anything else. Russ, devoted man of faith, has done nothing to gain the good graces of his immediate family. And it is this dissension amongst the ranks which propels Crossroads into dynamic territories. Russ’s storyline gives way to that of his son, Perry, the third oldest in the pecking order yet considered by the family’s matriarch (more on her, trust me) as its golden child. For good reason, too; Perry is inarguably brilliant, and it’s through his sections in which Franzen can truly flex his muscles. In addition to being gifted, Perry is also remarkably anxious, his restless brain seemingly impossible to switch off. It’s because of this perpetual anxiety Perry turns to drugs – at first pot, before graduating to much harder stuff – and subsequent addiction. Such troubles do not go unnoticed so much as they are cast aside in favor of interfamilial loyalties… and disloyalties. For Perry’s relationship with his own siblings is complicated. He shares a room with Judson and by proxy connects with him best; yet their relationship, like seemingly every relationship Perry holds, is superficial. Recognizing a need for change, Perry resolves to quit drugs and become a better person. Where better to do so than within the youth group? Better still, the youth group he father disdains? It goes to show just how willing Perry is to grow, which is to say very little. And yet his joining the group does mend another relationship of Perry’s which had grown fractured. Becky, the lone Hildebrandt sister, is pretty and popular; she’s the oil to Perry’s water. But like her brother, Becky seeks change; she’s all but lost her only sibling ally in Clem, the eldest Hildebrandt, who left for college the year before. She too joins Crossroads and learns more about herself as she and Perry begin to connect within its open, friendly confines. It’s there Becky also learns of the power of altruism, and when an unexpected inheritance finds her in possession of thirteen thousand dollars, she finds herself at her own crossroads. Does she go on, take the money, and run? Or does she share her windfall with her remaining siblings? That she even considers, let alone follows through with, the latter proves Becky’s own willingness to evolve. Clem is also dealing with his own issues amidst an ever-changing world. Having only gained any semblance of intimacy via his relationship with Becky, Clem struggles to truly connect with his first girlfriend (and lover), Sharon. She challenges Clem in every way Becky never had; it rocks Clem to his very core. Yet the solace he seeks is far greater than that of joining a youth group. He instead drops out of school and enlists in the army, another example of his willingness to change all the while challenging his own father’s demonstrative beliefs. Last, but certainly not least, we meet Marion, the Hildebrandt matriarch who is only referenced peripherally – and mostly unfavorably – prior to her introduction. Because of this foreshadowing I expected a difficult, complex individual. But never did I think I’d be introduced to – no hyperbole – the most memorable character since Jude in Hanya Yanagihara’s epic A Little Life. In fact, I found many similarities betwixt the two: abusive upbringing; submissive relationships; proclivity for humiliation. The oft-forgotten child of a mentally ill man and frequently absent mother, Marion is left to her own devices upon her father’s suicide; the lack of any parental figure in her life all but steers her harrowing pathway. And yet It’s also a pathway which ultimately leads her to God, then Russ, her savior. But their marriage has become a sham; Marion has gained weight and lost her husband’s interest. What’s more, she remains obsessed with a man with whom she’d had an affair several decades prior. She fantasizes about finding him, but not before she loses thirty pounds and gains control of a life that heretofore had been controlled by everyone but herself. Suffice to say there’s nothing cut and dry, nor black or white, about the Hildebrandts. Each is designed like a Russian doll; for every layer removed, another grey area is revealed. The results are messy, complicated and, at times, borderline shocking. And yet their story is told with admirable control, due to the capable, confident hands of one of literature’s greatest living authors. Jonathan Franzen not only understands his characters better than most writers of his generation, he celebrates their every flaw, their every idiosyncrasy, their every grey area. For without such grey areas, how are we to evolve? How could we possibly fix what’s broken without recognizing what it is that’s fractured? We are all but works in progress – but only when we acknowledge that progress needs to be made can we truly grow. The Hildebrandts are a prime example. And to say I cannot wait to become immersed within their fractured, flawed world once – twice! – again would be an understatement of Biblical proportions. (Many thanks to my soul brother, Greg, for hooking me up with an advanced copy.)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    So well-done, engaging, unpredictable, likeable, at times profound, moving at times, extraordinarily well-characterized, dramatic (plot-propelling conflict ever-arising), with stretches of believable, often religious/morality-related interiority, steady third-person focused on a Hildebrandt family member per chapter, dealing with all the vices and virtues of life, patient narrative pace that's nevertheless always revved up in veering, vervy language, sentences so often starting with some clause So well-done, engaging, unpredictable, likeable, at times profound, moving at times, extraordinarily well-characterized, dramatic (plot-propelling conflict ever-arising), with stretches of believable, often religious/morality-related interiority, steady third-person focused on a Hildebrandt family member per chapter, dealing with all the vices and virtues of life, patient narrative pace that's nevertheless always revved up in veering, vervy language, sentences so often starting with some clause creating anticipation for subject and verb, with the locations and psychiatric concerns and some thematics (dynamics of generosity as in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men) related to DFW grafted into the novel's structure and skin, especially with Perry (160 IQ, drug problem, so smart he's essentially stupid, ultimately tragic). Really enjoyed reading nearly 100 pages a day, could see the world and these people and care for them, appreciated and admired the novel, but also so often everything seemed to reflect on the author, the characters' insecurities the author's (Russ's envy of the cooler Ambrose?), and the world so vividly evoked and realistic seemed mechanized if never false, arranged exactly this way by the author lord of that world, each part orchestrated and intentional, rarely inadvertent or intuitive. The single lingering impression is that Franzen is a masterful author whose mastery is the single lingering impression -- I don't come away from the book thinking about its themes while otherwise doing dishes etc or with an image imprinted forever in my imagination (no matter how vivid the scenes are) or a sense of wonder or mystery or elevated perception of the inexhaustible abundance of life -- I come away thinking Franzen has defended his status as a major American writer. Which is weird. It's like he gets an A+, like he knows the contemporary literary fiction novel production game and plays it so wonderfully well, but there's a grade beyond grades that's unattainable for him, in part because he's too in control, there's not enough room for the reader to co-create the text? Laughed aloud twice although most of the book is written with a sense of humor, veer and verve -- the humor is more in the implausibility of every family member undergoing a major life crisis at the exact time. Will definitely read Crossroads Part 2 and will probably even watch the related series on Netflix or HBO. Of note, the guitar guy on the cover is playing a blues shuffle in A, like Johnny B. Goode more than Crossroads Blues, but at least it’s a blues rhythm form -- a meaningless superficial cover detail I liked.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Franzen’s public comments have annoyed me more than once so I have steered clear of him. I did make an attempt at reading Purity but didn’t finish it. I ignored my reservations and gave Crossroads a shot. This is an impressive novel and I’ve decided to read Corrections and Freedom. FOMO, you know. To simplify, Crossroads is about a Pastor’s dysfunctional family. Each member, except perhaps the youngest, is in the process of making life-altering decisions. For example, the Pastor is contemplating Franzen’s public comments have annoyed me more than once so I have steered clear of him. I did make an attempt at reading Purity but didn’t finish it. I ignored my reservations and gave Crossroads a shot. This is an impressive novel and I’ve decided to read Corrections and Freedom. FOMO, you know. To simplify, Crossroads is about a Pastor’s dysfunctional family. Each member, except perhaps the youngest, is in the process of making life-altering decisions. For example, the Pastor is contemplating adultery while his wife struggles with a severe trauma from her past. This is but the tip of the family’s ‘burg. Each member of the family misunderstands themselves as well as each other. However, I came away possibly knowing them better than I know my own family.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Jonathan Franzen has a distinct style, and I for one am sold. In a recent interview he shared that he hoped he wrote the kind of books that made people want to keep turning pages to find out what happens next, like the ones that attract him and he can get lost in. I was surprised to learn, given the intricacies of his plotting and in particular his characterizations that he writes linearly, beginning at a certain point and not knowing where some of his people were going to end up or how they'd a Jonathan Franzen has a distinct style, and I for one am sold. In a recent interview he shared that he hoped he wrote the kind of books that made people want to keep turning pages to find out what happens next, like the ones that attract him and he can get lost in. I was surprised to learn, given the intricacies of his plotting and in particular his characterizations that he writes linearly, beginning at a certain point and not knowing where some of his people were going to end up or how they'd arrived at the point at which the reader meets them. Crossroads is a brilliant title for this book as it not only is the name of a youth group in a church in the early 1970's, but it also concerns pivotal events in each member of a pastor's family, a family with more than the usual number of secrets from one another. Roshomon-like, the novel moves over the same ground from many points of view, captivating in their utter ignorance of one another. When asked "why the 1970's?", Franzen (born in 1959) responded that it was the first era that resonated with him, that he had clear memories of, and that he felt the people of that time were the same as those of today and therefore relatable. I agree. I also believe that since this is the first installment of a promised trilogy, it gives him enough leeway to plough into the future, expanding the lives of the people he's introduced here. He says he's begun on Book II, and I can't wait.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I know of few writers who write sentences as rhythmically perfect as Jonathan Franzen, and probe as deeply into what makes us tick. I loved this novel, especially its heart and the way it so honestly grapples with the idea of faith and God and, yes, the nexus of intention and belief. Also? I savored the time I spent with one family as they all tried to make sense of the way the world was changing in the early 1970s.

  16. 4 out of 5

    John Mauro

    Jonathan Franzen is in peak form, and also back in familiar territory, with this mid-Western family drama set in the early 1970s. This is apparently the first installment in a planned trilogy, and I am certainly eager to continue the story in Franzen's future volumes. The family in question is the Hildebrandt family, consisting of parents (Russ and Marion) and four children (Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson). The story is told from five points of view, i.e., from the perspectives of each of the Hi Jonathan Franzen is in peak form, and also back in familiar territory, with this mid-Western family drama set in the early 1970s. This is apparently the first installment in a planned trilogy, and I am certainly eager to continue the story in Franzen's future volumes. The family in question is the Hildebrandt family, consisting of parents (Russ and Marion) and four children (Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson). The story is told from five points of view, i.e., from the perspectives of each of the Hildebrandt family members except for the youngest son, Judson. Briefly: Russ is the associate pastor at a liberal protestant church who has fallen out of love with his wife and in love with a parishioner. He is also in competition with a younger, more dynamic pastor, Rick Ambrose, who leads the church's youth group, named "Crossroads." The youth group is popular with the local high school kids and is a bit of a personality cult for Rick Ambrose, who focuses more on New Age-y psychobabble than religion. Marion has a tragic past that she keeps hidden from Russ and the kids, and she is still haunted by it to this day. In particular, she makes an agreement with an unscrupulous character that she believes is responsible for all the trouble with her middle son, Perry. Clem is the oldest of the Hildebrandt children and is a freshman at the University of Illinois. He is reckless with the feelings of his girlfriend and decides to drop out of school to be drafted into the Vietnam War, much to the chagrin of his pacifist father. Becky is beautiful, popular, and a good girl, that is, until she falls in love with a musician, Tanner, who already has a girlfriend. Becky struggles between doing what she knows is the right thing vs. doing what everyone else expects her to do. Perry is a drug addict and a dealer. His descent into harder and harder drug addiction is accompanied by the onset of severe mental illness. He also essentially bankrupts his family. Franzen's prose is perfect, as usual. He does an excellent job analyzing the psychology of all the characters and paints a realistic picture of family that is falling apart. I am also intrigued by this portrait of mid-Western protestant culture, which is very different from my own upbringing. Five stars for each of these five compelling and well-developed characters. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

  17. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    Franzen doesn’t so much create original stories anymore; he perfects ones that exist, and tweaks makeshift ones into masterpieces of fiction. He’s never better than when he focuses on family and dramatic domestic dynamics. CROSSROADS, which takes place in the 1970s, centers on pastor Russ Hildebrandt and his more Catholic wife, Marion, one of the most memorable female protagonists in eons (on that level of intensity). If for no other reason, read this to meet Marion. These are key archetypes and Franzen doesn’t so much create original stories anymore; he perfects ones that exist, and tweaks makeshift ones into masterpieces of fiction. He’s never better than when he focuses on family and dramatic domestic dynamics. CROSSROADS, which takes place in the 1970s, centers on pastor Russ Hildebrandt and his more Catholic wife, Marion, one of the most memorable female protagonists in eons (on that level of intensity). If for no other reason, read this to meet Marion. These are key archetypes and themes, and also convoluted and Shakespearean with a (tragi-) comedy of errors. Existential characters seek freedom from contradictions by adhering to Christian doctrine--or rejecting it. The title Crossroads could be called Blurred Boundaries. Russ and Marion and their four children--Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson--are all highly intelligent and distinctively damaged. Generally, they live with poor boundaries. Reader, you’ll relate. Franzen doesn’t break walls, or puncture through ceilings with plot, but he will dazzle you with the authenticity of Marion, Russ, and three of their four children. Judson is the youngest child and the only one not fleshed out. (I think it is purposeful.) Depth of character is Franzen’s wheelhouse, and this narrative (a genre that he invented or at least contoured for the modern era) illustrates how lives bleed into each other, and who we are willing to discard on our way to become authentic and happy (or selfish and charlatan). Franzen practically created the modern domestic drama, and now he’s rearranging and adding the complication of religion. Crossroads is the youth group connected to the First Reformed church, where Russ Hildebrandt preaches (but he’s associate, not the lead). Rick Ambrose is the young, attractive, and hip new head counselor at Crossroads. His teenagers at the center admire, respect, and practically worship him. Ambrose and Russ’s antipathy toward each other creates much of this novel’s suspense; the roots of the feud are gradually revealed. The torture for Russ never stops, despite the fact that he created this quagmire. Franzen shows us religion (Christianity) through a laid back (not extremist) and compassionate lens. I’m an atheist and yet I was not turned off by First Reformed’s guiding principles and gentle approach to parishioners. You don’t have to agree with its doctrine to still respect the even-handed patronage (However incongruously, there’s still a struggle with hypocrisy by those that preach and parent). Crossroads is the first in a trilogy, which will likely take us through to the present, and possibly beyond, to a dystopian-esque near-future. The trilogy itself is allegedly named, A Key to All Mythologies, and I’m stumped how that fits in with Crossroads, the novel (which is assuredly fitting). Every primary character in this novel will stand at a personal crossroads. Some, like son Perry, will bring you to your knees. His infernal fall from child to enfant terrible troubled my nightly dreams as I continued to read. Romantic Love, sister/brother love, honor, addiction, betrayal, greed, adultery, rape, understanding, generosity, self-pity--all and more are explored. “It was strange that self-pity wasn’t on the list of deadly sins… None was deadlier.” Despite the degeneracy of a few characters, Franzen also counters the ugly with the softest, gentlest, and most forgiving grace that I remember from his novels Purity, Freedom, and even Corrections. The author’s empathy for his characters’ worst behaviors is crucial to this story. That is what allows him to explore his cast so thoroughly, and the deviances so particularly. Every time a segment ends on a character, I start off the next part wishing to go back to the character I was reading. But, Franzen is so talented a portraitist that by the time that a few pages pass into another character, I’m hooked again. That’s a skill that Franzen confidently possesses. God as a concept has some Navajo power and the story’s spirituality often encompasses desire for wisdom and balance, which contrasts with those seven deadly sins-- gluttony, greed, lust, envy, pride, and the rest. At the crossroads of each Hildebrandt--individually and as a family, moderation is crushed by dangerous indulgences. Now I’m eager for book #2. All the characters have a lot more living to do, and I suspect that the sidelined or obscured ones will carry more weight in the second book, their story blossoming. If it weren’t for the fact of a trilogy, I would have criticized the ending for being rushed and unfinished, but Franzen is setting up for the next book. (Still, no excuse for a teensy-bit of a sloppy ending). All is forgiven, because I inhabited this book for many hours, and I’m still having a hard time transitioning to another book. Starting around the 400 mark, there were about fifty pages that don’t fit the style and tone of the rest of the book. That part is a chronicle of Russ and his history with the Navajo tribe, and also how he met Marion. The tone was dry and flat, but the prose was still beautiful. I wondered if he removed his original work and replaced it with what read like journalistic entries. Cutting to the deepest theme hits the bone. The seven deadly sins serve biblically for the story’s underpinnings and fear factor of bad behavior. Can a hypocritical pastor nevertheless be effective at work? While the parents are busy with their self-indulgent mid-life crises, the children are all over the map. (This is not to disparage Marion’s past trauma). Becky is a natural leader with her cool head. Clem is dear to Becky but otherwise distant from family. He’s older. Judson, the youngest, was more of a sketch at this point. Franzen also blends in existential philosophy into the narrative. As Spielberg keeps looking for a father in his art, Franzen will eternally seek answers about existence. Where do we learn morality? Of course, from reading a Jonathan Franzen novel! This is his best character study novel yet. Marion just blows me away. Read it, literature and character geeks!

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Gilbert

    A story of a family of six, Russ is an associate minister of a christian church in Illinois, his wife Marion has raised the kids, and their four children are at different stages in their lives. And what a troubled family they are, especially the parents and one son. But they are all interesting with serious faults but they are all constantly changing throught this fascinating novel. Jonathan Frazen can write. It's not an easy read by any means, but you know you have been through the wringer by t A story of a family of six, Russ is an associate minister of a christian church in Illinois, his wife Marion has raised the kids, and their four children are at different stages in their lives. And what a troubled family they are, especially the parents and one son. But they are all interesting with serious faults but they are all constantly changing throught this fascinating novel. Jonathan Frazen can write. It's not an easy read by any means, but you know you have been through the wringer by the end. Buckle up and enjoy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Trudie

    This Franzen guy is pretty good eh? ooof, I am impressed. This had moments of awkwardness for sure ( the man knows how to write a squirm-inducing bedroom scene) and some of these Hildebrandts were of more immediate interest to me than others. Marion for example could easily be my character of the year, taking over where Shuggie Bain left off last year ( obviously I love a troubled soul ). Perry, a precocious experimenter with substances also blazes a memorable trail across these nearly 600 pages. This Franzen guy is pretty good eh? ooof, I am impressed. This had moments of awkwardness for sure ( the man knows how to write a squirm-inducing bedroom scene) and some of these Hildebrandts were of more immediate interest to me than others. Marion for example could easily be my character of the year, taking over where Shuggie Bain left off last year ( obviously I love a troubled soul ). Perry, a precocious experimenter with substances also blazes a memorable trail across these nearly 600 pages. Of less interest to my atheist mindset was the tussle with faith that is central to much of this novel. It seems likely I missed plenty of context here, simply because religiosity is not something that particularly interests me. However, it's a useful framework for exploring the ideas of goodness and the moral inconsistencies we all live with. Undoubtedly it is key to unlocking the complexities of the Hildebrandt family. I can't wait to see how this story develops over the next two instalments. Sign me up for more Franzen.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    Holy mother this is a complicated book, the closest thing to the great American novel I have read in a very long time (maybe since The Corrections?) and it is going to take some time for me to process it. I used to know a religion professor, a brilliant and delightful guy, who spent most of his waking hours neck deep in Western religion texts. He was an Atheist. The way he talked about religion, the intricacy of the liturgy, the impact of interpretation on history, the connection to philosophica Holy mother this is a complicated book, the closest thing to the great American novel I have read in a very long time (maybe since The Corrections?) and it is going to take some time for me to process it. I used to know a religion professor, a brilliant and delightful guy, who spent most of his waking hours neck deep in Western religion texts. He was an Atheist. The way he talked about religion, the intricacy of the liturgy, the impact of interpretation on history, the connection to philosophical texts that predated various versions of the Christian bible, all without the sparkly eyes of the true believer, changed my understanding of and relation to God and to religion as a part of life (in the macro sense, as it influences the behaviors of most everyone around us, even non-believers.) Reading this book reminded me of those conversations in the best way. I feel challenged and shaken. In all honesty, I want to take a class on this book. I feel like I need someone to shepherd me through parts of it. I imagine if I had a better grounding in Christian theology I would see even more in here, but I got plenty even without that. On its face this is, like The Corrections, a story of a Midwestern family in the 70's (with other supporting timelines set in the parents' pasts.) In this case we have the Hildebrandt family. The father is Russ, a pastor who is quite sure of his goodness, rightness, and supremacy. The mother, Marion, is a pastor's wife with a deeply buried past. To my mind she is the most interesting and complex of the Hildebrandts. I wanted so much better for her. Russ and Marion have four children. The three eldest children are products of their upbringing, and things are not looking great for them. Russ and Marion and those three children are all at a "crossroads" in the novel, each having their own crises of faith. Not just crises of faith in God, but faith in their family and in all they have been told is right and good. We the reader ride shotgun as the Hildebrandts face their defining moments at these crossroads and do not (I don't think this counts as a spoiler) make great decisions. (The name of the book definitely comes in part from these personal moments of choice, but also there is a Christian teen group called Crossroads that is at the center of a lot of the storylines and Russ is a huge Robert Johnson fan, so we have the specter of Mr. Johnson selling his soul to the devil, and perhaps of some characters doing the same.) I guess I need to put in a disclaimer here -- I grew up in the 70's in the Midwest, I am roughly the same age as the youngest of the children in the family, a boy whom we don't learn a ton about in this first book of the trilogy, but we know he is watching and absorbing the clusterfuck around him. The reason I say this is a disclaimer is that I hated being a being a child in the Midwest in the 1970's, and I was watching and absorbing the clusterfuck around me (I was also the youngest), and I still have a lot of feelings. I am not great at processing those feelings so they came out strong while I was reading this and affected my review. The pity and the anger and the frustration that ran through me as I read was as sharp and real as if these things were happening to me. Sure, there was some sympathy and some empathy, but most of the feelings were of a less healthy variety. The way Franzen broke things down though, the way the characters reacted to things, refracted my view of my own experiences, things I thought I had figured out years ago. I am not confident Franzen brings more truth to analysis than I did/do on my own, but he certainly gave me some new perspectives, and that is pretty amazing. So I started out talking about this as a book founded in Christianity, and then moved to this discussion of the product of dysfunctional families who bury what they really feel and that seems inconsistent, but it is not. The dysfunction comes, in part, from trying to live while suffocating under the cloaks of religious community and Midwestern community. These forces create synergies and those synergies are what we see. Perry, the third Hildebrandt child, and the spark for most of the action in this story (and not in a good way) talks a good deal about how even generosity is self-serving because we are generous in order to make people see us as generous so we can reap the endorphin rush of their adulation. I am not quite as cynical as a screwed up teenager so I am not quite so absolute as Perry, but also, the kid ain't entirely wrong. And living as he does, a preacher's kid in Illinois, it probably is true of most of the generosity he sees around him. One of the hallmarks of a certain kind of Midwestern ethos (I recognize this is not true of all Midwestern families, and I also recognize I am biased by my specific experience) is that things have not occurred and are neither right nor wrong until the neighbors see them and decide if those things make them think less or more of you - it is a weird sort of metaphysical morality, and its not great. So this is where I throw mental illness into the stew of Midwestern passive-aggressive grit/repression and Christian groupthink. Several members of the Hildebrandt family feel the personal impact of mental illness, and all feel its impact on the family. The effects of mental illness (almost certainly there is a genetic predisposition at play) are exacerbated by the repression and groupthink. This comes out in some characters' efforts to make themselves invisible (if you are not seen you cannot be judged), in others as an inability to accept that anything exists if you do not see it, and in other ways as well. Unrelatedly (kind of), Franzen really shows us how toxic masculinity (something he is sort of expert in) damages the toxic men themselves and that too was really interesting. Yes, there is a lot of stuff about penises, and a little about vaginas (all definitely not written by or proofed by a woman) and some really gross sexual congress, so there is that. But the toxicity material that is interesting to me is how the character's lives and their opportunity for any kind of quenching connection are destroyed by their conscious and unconscious definitions of who they are in the world and in their relationships as a result of their whiteness and their maleness. This is especially true of Russ and the eldest son Clem who are unable to connect to any women in nonsexual ways, even when sexual connection with a female would be completely inappropriate and/or illegal and who march off to do their savior penance with laser-focused self-satisfaction and no broader look at how their actions effect their families or those they have decided they should be saving. That is a part I most need to sit with a bit longer before I discuss it, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I know Franzen is a lightning rod, and he can be an ass, but he is a self-aware lightning rod and ass and he presents these nuanced men who I want to know so much more about even though I have a pretty healthy dislike for many of them based at least in part on those people having characteristics and making choices I suspect come directly from the author. Its complicated. It is also worth mentioning that Franzen has written Marion really beautifully so his insight is not limited to the men. This is an enduring book, it is a document of a certain type of person and life, a unique story of a group of fleshed out characters, and a meditation of some of the most fundamental moral questions human beings wrestle with. What does it mean to be a good person? To be a bad person? How do we live to honor god or goodness or intellectual coherence or whatever we worship. A couple endnotes for those with issues with Franzen. I was really glad he didn't talk about birds or climate change for the most part. For those who found Franzen's humor falls flat for them (sometimes I count myself in that group, but mostly I like it in other books) they will be glad to know this is pretty humor free. For those that are bothered by Franzen's dismissal or castigation of religion in other books, this is a religious book, and it is not arch or snarky. The book is deeply respectful of faith and of ethical grappling with existential questions, while also poking at certain rules of the road when it comes to practicing faith as defined by an established church. So yeah, its pretty great.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    Crossroads may be 580 pages long, but it is only the first part of a planned trilogy of books. This means there could be another 1000 pages to go! The overall title for the trilogy is “A Key to All Mythologies”, a grand sounding title that puts us firmly in Middlemarch territory. In Middlemarch, Rev. Casaubon dedicates himself to his work “The Key to All Mythologies”, the idea being to find the key that links all mythologies (cultural belief systems and superstitions) to Christianity. The phrase Crossroads may be 580 pages long, but it is only the first part of a planned trilogy of books. This means there could be another 1000 pages to go! The overall title for the trilogy is “A Key to All Mythologies”, a grand sounding title that puts us firmly in Middlemarch territory. In Middlemarch, Rev. Casaubon dedicates himself to his work “The Key to All Mythologies”, the idea being to find the key that links all mythologies (cultural belief systems and superstitions) to Christianity. The phrase has since come to symbolise the failure of unrealised ambitions and has become a “byword for the mind-numbingly recondite” (cambridge.org). I don’t think this is why Franzen has called his trilogy this. There are some clues through this first volume, but I suspect more will be revealed on this, and several other topics, as the second and third volumes arrive. Our protagonists are the Hildebrandts and, as the book opens, it is 1971 in New Prospect, Illinois, USA with Vietnam in everyone’s mind. Russ is the family patriarch. He is second pastor of the First Reform church where things have not been easy for him. Recent history means we find him in mid-feud with Rick Ambrose, the youth pastor at the same time as his marriage is in difficulty. Marion is his wife and we fairly quickly learn that Russ does not know all of her dark history. Clem is their eldest son and is feeling guilty about avoiding the draft. Becky is their daughter, popular, attractive, falling in love. Then there’s Perry who is struggling with a drug problem. Finally there’s Judson, but he hardly features in this book (perhaps he will become more central in a later volume). One charge that might be laid at the book’s door is that the characters are a bit caricatured. It’s Jonathan Franzen, so it’s hardly surprising the book/trilogy is a generational family saga full of psychological observations that take us into the minds of the main characters as they search for identity and wrestle with morality. The book’s title might come from the name of the youth group at the church, but it also describes where each of the main characters finds themselves as the book begins. But it is also more than just a family saga. It’s a trilogy and it is clear that it is going to track forward in time from 1971. In this book, set 50 years ago, there are hints of ideas that I am sure will develop over the subsequent volumes, tracking very current themes as they have developed over the last 2-3 generations. There are things that didn’t have names in 1971 but are present in embryonic form in the novel (“virtue signalling”, “cultural appropriation”). It’s impossible not to think that these kinds of ideas will develop over the next two books as we head towards the 2020s. I have to acknowledge a mixed experience reading the book. There’s a long, long chapter in the middle that I found it hard to maintain my interest in even though it was probably developing a key idea for the books (it talks about time Russ spends among the Navajo and the difficulties of cross-cultural work but also about his early relationship with Marion who became his wife). The narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time often approaching the same point from more than one character’s perspective before it moves forward and often filling in details of a character’s back story. But, overall, I enjoyed reading most of the book and I certainly plan to read the next volume whenever that might be released. That said, it is likely I will rely on my notes for this one rather than re-reading it to refresh my memory. So, slightly mixed feelings, but overall positive. 3.5 stars rounded up.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    In George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, the unlikable character Edward Casaubon sets out to write about the field of theology, a masterwork that he entitles “The Key to All Mythologies” yet Casaubon dies before it’s completed, leaving the unfinished work to his wife who considers it a “tomb” symbolizing the failures of unrealized ambition. It’s almost comical that Franzen would name his trilogy the same thing, undertaking a task that already failed a fictitious character with lesser pretension. Th In George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, the unlikable character Edward Casaubon sets out to write about the field of theology, a masterwork that he entitles “The Key to All Mythologies” yet Casaubon dies before it’s completed, leaving the unfinished work to his wife who considers it a “tomb” symbolizing the failures of unrealized ambition. It’s almost comical that Franzen would name his trilogy the same thing, undertaking a task that already failed a fictitious character with lesser pretension. The irony is also not lost on the comparison of the ideologies of god and morality that Casaubon studies directly resonates with the themes of Crossroads, the first novel in Franzen’s trilogy . Franzen has outstandingly one upped himself with the creation of the Hildebrandt’s, an iconic and once in a decade type family that is coming apart at the seams and we don’t know whether to empathize with them or painfully root for their demise, each member of the stereotypical nuclear family living in the early 70’s is grappling with their own demons (or gods) in a small Illinois town that reeks of indifference. Laughing on one page and cringing on the next, the existential range of emotions he touches upon is without a doubt the most Franzen-esque that Franzen has ever been, that sentences alone is almost a patronizing laughable remark but trust me, the way he writes about the middle-class middle-American family is almost like he single handily is saving the modern state of American literature, call it pompous but no one can contest his creativity and skill, and his inventive stories are only second to his craft of writing, that with Crossroads, he has perfected . Six family members pinball back and forth with alternating points of view over the period of two days during a majority of Crossroads, we see the varying vantage points and each event from all the angles, the backstories and character development that forges itself into each chapter is so finely tuned that we feel as if each one of these people has taken on a corporeal form . Russ the patriarch of the family is a pastor who is wrestling with his thoughts on god and his lackluster marriage, he is tempted by a younger woman which questions the moral fibers of his entire being, in lesser words, Russ is a complete schmuck and we want to hate everything about him. He exemplifies the stereotypical white male father, cringeworthy at times and yet something about him makes you want to root for him. Marion his wife, aging, unstable, and unhappy is one of Franzen’s greatest characters in my opinion, she is a multilayered woman whom we see come into her own, she has the most intriguing and unfortunate of backstories that only we as the reader get to witness. The comic relief she poses later on in the novel is beautiful to see, she really steals the show and runs with it . The eldest son Clem is a college student who we don’t get to hear from very often, he is wrestling with his feelings of love and intimacy and decides to drop out and enlist for Vietnam to spite his father whom he hates. The next eldest Hildebrandt is Becky. A popular social butterfly loved by everyone she encounters, she can never seem to do something wrong, as she nears adulthood she finds love, god, and the strange path that befalls her. The second youngest is Perry, probably the most memorable of all the children as he struggles with drugs and addiction despite the fact that he’s the family genius. Perry is complicated, watching him battle his problems is heartbreaking and a source of turmoil for the other five. The youngest son doesn’t play much of a role in the dynamic that rips at each of the other members. It was a privilege to watch as with each chapter another layer was revealed of each of them, humanizing everything, there was scarcely a dull moment along the 600 page journey. . Ultimately each person is at a “crossroads” in their life, not knowing which path to take. Searching through god, mental illness, drugs, their past, and their futures, they take a labyrinthine trail that leads to an ending that has me eager to find what Franzen does next with them. The trilogy is supposed to span three generations up until present day, and Im hoping he sticks with the Hildebrandts, so we can watch them as they either save themselves or fall to their own self inflicted demises.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Greg Zimmerman

    The Franzen returns! You know, for a writer who has such a reputation (warranted or not) for being an unpleasant curmudgeon, he sure understands and seems to like people. And he sure knows how to tell their stories in such a way that even a 600-page novel seems to just fly by. A few months ago, I attended a Zoom interview with The Franzen, during which he mentioned he's of the (seemingly arbitrary) belief that writers only have six good novels in them, and then they should retire. He said when he The Franzen returns! You know, for a writer who has such a reputation (warranted or not) for being an unpleasant curmudgeon, he sure understands and seems to like people. And he sure knows how to tell their stories in such a way that even a 600-page novel seems to just fly by. A few months ago, I attended a Zoom interview with The Franzen, during which he mentioned he's of the (seemingly arbitrary) belief that writers only have six good novels in them, and then they should retire. He said when he started Crossroads, his sixth novel, he felt like it would be his last book -- but then he got so into it and the lives of this family, 600 pages later, we have what is the first volume in a trilogy. Woo, and may I add, Hoo! I for one am delighted about this - because I loved/hated/was absolutely fascinated by this family. The story is about a family of six - the Hildebrandts - living in a suburb of Chicago in the early 1970s. These people are quirky but also about as normal and everyday as people get. The father is an assistant pastor at a local church, the mother is a stay-at-home mom, and the kids do kids-like things, fight with each other, go off to college, try drugs, sex, and rock and roll. But as each character wrestles with their own problems (and their checkered pasts, in the parents' cases), things, as is the case with all families who are miserable in their own way, get broken. When you are so mad at someone you love, how to repair the damage of cruelty? How do you overcome the feeling that you may not like, much less love, these people anymore? The revolving character studies and how each of these characters relate to each other is interesting enough to keep us moving along quickly. But what Franzen's really got going on here is a novel about the extremely fine lines between ostensible opposites: love and hate, respect and contempt, faithfulness and infidelity, faith and doubt, empathy and intentional cruelty, and self-righteousness and altruism. I don't know if this is my favorite Franzen novel - but it's up there. And I can't wait for the next one!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Crossroads is a book about all the ways we don’t understand each other or ourselves. We truly are complete mysteries. And we’re so fundamentally flawed. But we’re also complete cliches. And we’re just all adrift and confused and sad and lonely and nobody writes about it like Franzen. This is very much The Corrections territory and it’s such a pleasure to return to it after all these years with Franzen so confidently at the helm. I love how Franzen grapples with our morality and saviour complexes Crossroads is a book about all the ways we don’t understand each other or ourselves. We truly are complete mysteries. And we’re so fundamentally flawed. But we’re also complete cliches. And we’re just all adrift and confused and sad and lonely and nobody writes about it like Franzen. This is very much The Corrections territory and it’s such a pleasure to return to it after all these years with Franzen so confidently at the helm. I love how Franzen grapples with our morality and saviour complexes here. In typical style all of the characters are vividly drawn but Marion may just be one of Franzen’s best. She is deeply, truly fascinating and complex and we are given access to her in ways denied in most books. In case it’s unclear, I loved every damn word of this very long and very sad book though the final section felt weirdly rushed. I am so ready for book two.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Crossroads is a welcome immersive, big novel, remarkably taut and involving for its size. But it strikes me as a collage of laughable characters and situations, none of which ring true. Will Matt Groening write the screenplays for the animated The Hildebrandts sitcom series? 3.5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    Susie

    Franzen at his finest. I loved every word. How long must we wait for part two?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I must admit that the crazy birding guy can write. This book comes through in all the ways that Corrections and Freedom came through and avoids the annoying parts that made purity such a letdown. I have had complaints in the past about the way he has written women and though I don't feel "seen" here in the women characters, they are equally vexing, pitiful, and tragic as the men. I absolutely love the subtlety of the themes and the multiple perspectives of characters and the clashes in moral cod I must admit that the crazy birding guy can write. This book comes through in all the ways that Corrections and Freedom came through and avoids the annoying parts that made purity such a letdown. I have had complaints in the past about the way he has written women and though I don't feel "seen" here in the women characters, they are equally vexing, pitiful, and tragic as the men. I absolutely love the subtlety of the themes and the multiple perspectives of characters and the clashes in moral codes. The reviews I've read talk about this book have talked about it as a book about what it means to do the right thing or what it means to be good. To me, the core of the book is about hypocrisy--it seems like he's taking another shot at purity but this time as subtext and here he comes off as a lot less bitter. It feels like a story about the New Testament pharisees and sadducees with some nice easter eggs for those who made it through sunday school. Not all of this is subtle. The ministry is at the heart of the book, but the sermon is in the characters. This is not to say that there is a Jesus figure in this story--there isn't--or maybe there are several options that might emerge over the trilogy. Yet some of the uses and misuses of christianity as religion and as culture are pretty subtle and profound. Very excited for the next two. (also, if you haven't already, do NOT read his bird essays while you're waiting for his novels. They will make you like him less)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    Can we just talk about how ridiculous it is that Jonathan Franzen refers to himself as being "universally recognized as the leading novelist of his generation" on his cover flap? Just...wow. Can we just talk about how ridiculous it is that Jonathan Franzen refers to himself as being "universally recognized as the leading novelist of his generation" on his cover flap? Just...wow.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    For years now, I’ve wondered if Jonathan Franzen could ever write a book to surpass his masterpiece, The Corrections. I’m here to say that with Crossroads, he most resoundingly did. By playing to his strengths—creating a microcosmic world that focuses on a damaged family—he offers up manna to those of us who are character-based readers. His goal is not to focus on bells and whistles and plot-based twists, but rather to evolve the characters so that the readers know them so well they are totally e For years now, I’ve wondered if Jonathan Franzen could ever write a book to surpass his masterpiece, The Corrections. I’m here to say that with Crossroads, he most resoundingly did. By playing to his strengths—creating a microcosmic world that focuses on a damaged family—he offers up manna to those of us who are character-based readers. His goal is not to focus on bells and whistles and plot-based twists, but rather to evolve the characters so that the readers know them so well they are totally emotionally invested. The family is headed by Russ Hildebrant, the associate pastor of a Chicago suburban church who has fallen out of favor at the youth-based group called Crossroads—a group determined to meet teenagers “where they live” with honest talk and artificial connections and—well, whatever it takes. Russ is married to Marion, whose life, before she married Russ, is filled with darkness and secrets that even he has no access to. Clem, the older son, is an atheist who believes in moral absolutism. Then there’s Becky, the most popular girl at high school, who is dipping her toes in the Crossroads culture. Perry, her younger brother, is a near genius who is poised to destroy himself with using and selling drugs. Lastly, there is 9-year-old Judson, who is likely being groomed to take over as a key chronicler of Book 2 (Franzen is planning to write a three-book series). So what is this book about? It’s about family, secrets, boundaries, the failure and grace of religion, the complications of coming of age in the 1970s, morality, hubris and jealousy, being pulled back into family lineaments each is trying to escape, good and evil and the chasm that lies in between. But most of all, Crossroads is about answering the questions: is being pretty good good enough? Is it its own reward or does it always serve some personal instrumentality? What does it mean to be good, anyway? Is sinning inseparable from feeling alive? In one searing scene when Perry attends an adult party in his parent’s stead at the home of the main pastor, he confronts a reverend and a rabbi with these stunning words: “My question is whether we can ever escape our selfishness. Even if you bring in God, and make Him the measure of goodness, the person who worships and obeys Him still wants something for himself. He enjoys the feeling of being righteous, or he wants eternal life, or what have you” On one way or another, every character in this novel will come up against this question as he or she walks the fine line between trying to be good and needing to be selfish. Each will come to an organic reckoning point. The characters, particularly Marion, an incredibly complex and intricately drawn woman, are pitch perfect. We leave these characters, aptly, at a Crossroad. I cannot wait to read Jonathan Franzen’s next book, which will presumably bring this family and its offspring into the 21st century. The stage is set for rage, guilt, and maybe, just maybe, redemption.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amerie

    Brilliant. The Amerie's Book Club selection for the month of November is CROSSROADS by Jonathan Franzen! Follow @AmeriesBookClub on IG, and join me and Jonathan Franzen on my IGLIVE (@Amerie) Nov. 30 1pm PST/4pm EST. Bring your questions! What does it mean to be a family? Do we owe our family and our community more than we owe ourselves? How can we maintain faith once we find it, and to what lengths will we go in order to hold on to the ones we love? Jonathan Franzen explores this and more in his b Brilliant. The Amerie's Book Club selection for the month of November is CROSSROADS by Jonathan Franzen! Follow @AmeriesBookClub on IG, and join me and Jonathan Franzen on my IGLIVE (@Amerie) Nov. 30 1pm PST/4pm EST. Bring your questions! What does it mean to be a family? Do we owe our family and our community more than we owe ourselves? How can we maintain faith once we find it, and to what lengths will we go in order to hold on to the ones we love? Jonathan Franzen explores this and more in his brilliant new novel, CROSSROADS. Funny, rich in character, and both generous and eviscerating in its portrayal of the Hildebrandts, I relished each and every page. 📚 #AmeriesBookClub #ReadwithAmerie #ABC #JonathanFranzen #Crossroads @fsgbooks @AmeriesBookClub @Amerie ABOUT JONATHAN FRANZEN Jonathan Franzen is the author of six novels, most recently Crossroads and Purity, and five works of nonfiction, including The Discomfort Zone, Farther Away, and The End of the End of the Earth. Among his honors are the National Book Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Award, the Heartland Prize, Die Welt Literature Prize, the Budapest Grand Prize, and the first Carlos Fuentes Medal awarded at the Guadalajara International Book Fair. Franzen is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the German Akademie der Künste, and the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. An ardent bird-watcher, he has served on the board of the American Bird Conservancy since 2008, and has received the EuroNatur Award for his work in bird conservation.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...