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InstaReview: Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

"He wondered if an action, to qualify as authentically good, needed not only to be untainted by self-interest but also to bring no pleasure of any kind."

Jonathan Franzen is a master of detail and dives into the lives and motivations of each character, and in the case of Crossroads, the dynamics within the family. This novel follows the Hildebrandt family, which consists of a father who is the associate pastor of a church, his wife, and their children Clem (a moral absolutist who has just unthinkably volunteered to go to Vietnam), Becky (a popular girl in school), and Perry (a brainiac who realized he could easily sell drugs to other students). The father, Russ, is a seeming hypocrite- he is bored in his marriage, hates his colleague at the church, and contemplates infidelity for most of the book. Russ clashes in various ways with each of his children, conflicts with drive forward the plot, as does their participation in the eponymous youth group at the church, Crossroads. We didn't really mind how long it was because we enjoyed the writing and really learning about each character. However, we felt like we were careening towards a more meaningful conclusion, and thus found the ending both unsatisfying and rather confusing because it didn't totally track. Franzen is not for everyone, and while we give this 4 stars because his writing and focus on family dynamics works for us, the length of the book + the mediocre wrap-up means you'd have to appreciate these same things to pick up this hefty novel.


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