Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen – Audible Book Review
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Narrator: David Pittu
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Audio Length: 25 hours
This is the latest novel by Jonathan Franzen, known for works such as The Corrections and Freedom. It’s another sprawling story and it follows the lives of five members of the Hildebrandt family, at Christmas 1971 and beyond.
We meet the father Russ, the First Reformed’s associate pastor, a man suffering something like a mid-life crisis, unsure of his achievements or even his marriage. His wife Marion, who seems to be a very conventional wife and mother, but bubbling just under the surface is a world of neurosis. They have four children, Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson. The book delves into the lives of the older three children, for some reason leaving Judson barely mentioned. Clem is the oldest and is going to college. He has recently fallen in love for the first time and all should be right in his world, but then he starts to question his relationship and how he has avoided going to the Vietnam war. Becky is a young woman who is just coming of age and has recently joined Crossroads, a youth group run by her father’s main adversary, the charismatic Rick Ambrose. The final character that is explored is Perry, who despite his relatively young age has started experimenting with drugs. He’s the brightest of the children but possibly the closest to his mother in temperament and the most troubled.
The marriage of Russ and Marion is one of the main focuses of the work. Things have grown cold between the couple. Marion has put on some weight and Russ no longer finds her attractive. An added complication is the arrival of a young widow, in the form of Frances Cottrell. She starts to pay attention to Russ and it is a temptation he struggles to contain.
The plot is not especially complex and the piece focuses more on the characters and their relationships. The book’s one failing is the ending, as it fades out rather than reaching anything close to a conclusion. This is probably because the book is the first part of a proposed trilogy called A Key to All Mythologies (a line taken from Edward Casaubon’s work in Middlemarch). With Franzen taking at least five years between his novels, this could end up being his last major work. It is certainly a fine first step and a novel that creates characters who are real and believable.
The novel is read by American actor David Pittu, who captures the male voices easily but at times struggles with the female characters.