Jonathan Franzen dreams big, goes deep with 'Crossroads' - Albuquerque Journal

Jonathan Franzen dreams big, goes deep with ‘Crossroads’

Jonathan Franzen dreams big. His newest novel, “Crossroads,” arrives with an audible thud on readers’ doorsteps and will easily hold those doors open at 580 pages. The themes are monumental – from the existence of God to our obligations to family to the morality of war. It’s also the first of a trilogy called, aspirationally, “The Key to All Mythologies.”

But don’t let all the hype surrounding a Franzen novel overwhelm you before reading. In many ways, this is peak Franzen, with richly created characters, conflicts and plot. “Crossroads” introduces readers to the Hildebrandt family at the start of the 1970’s. The patriarch, Russ, is a middle-aged associate pastor at a suburban Chicago church, with less-than-pure thoughts about a widowed parishioner in his congregation and a younger rival in the clergy, Rick Ambrose, whose flourishing youth group gives the novel its name. Russ’ wife, Marion, wonders if all the sacrifices she made to be a pastor’s wife were worth it. And their four kids are all caught up in some fashion in the swirling cultural winds of the decade. Despite their religious upbringing, or perhaps in part because of it, there are temptations at every turn.

And in typical Franzen fashion, we go fathoms deep into all the characters’ heads as they navigate their lives. The introspection is head-spinning at times. Just when a character convinces themselves to do something, they reconsider and the plot spins off in a new direction. That’s not to say any of it feels arbitrary. Franzen has a story to tell, it’s just a story featuring characters who aren’t always sure what they want.

The writing is a marvel. Despite the super omniscient third-person narrator, Franzen also delivers economic lines like these, as we get Marion’s backstory before she met Russ: “Her first Christmas alone wasn’t so bad that it didn’t later seem good.” You feel throughout like you’re in the hands of a very confident storyteller and the joy of the novel is going along for the journey with each character as they make choices and live with the consequences.

You also feel when you finish that the story is just getting started. We’re told on the book jacket that the trilogy will “span three generations,” which means the children will likely be adults in the next volume, and then we’ll approach present day with their children. Russ gets the most pages in novel number one, but it’s truly a family saga. His life choices and the impact they have on the rest of the family will set the stage for what comes in books two and three. And that’s the hard part. An audience accustomed to binge watching will have to wait years for the Hildebrandt story to play out. But isn’t that a moral in many mythologies? Good things come to those who wait.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
Salvage-yard finds fuel artist's work
Arts
1"I work full time in my ... 1"I work full time in my studio – at least 8 hours a day – and my process has to ...
2
NM artist Leah Garcia to show her cyanotype works ...
Arts
It's been months since Leah Garcia ... It's been months since Leah Garcia has had some downtime.The New Mexico-based artist h ...
3
Online auction to raise money for EndeavOR New Mexico
Arts
Outdoor lovers can now participate in ... Outdoor lovers can now participate in their dream adventures for a fraction of the price. ...
4
Apple tree looks to have cottony cushion scale
Arts
Q: I'm asking for recommendations for ... Q: I'm asking for recommendations for my 30-year-old red delicious apple tree. Until about four year ...
5
'Dressing with Purpose' at MOIFA dives into fashion's cultural ...
Arts
Fashion is art, yet it can ... Fashion is art, yet it can also make a statement
6
Book dives into the history of the winter sport ...
Arts
Daniel Gibson grew up in the ... Daniel Gibson grew up in the North Valley. ...
7
Four books for holiday gift giving
Arts
Holiday books come in different subjects ... Holiday books come in different subjects and sizes
8
ALT production puts a spin on Dickens' classic work
Arts
Contemporary theater companies have long wrestled ... Contemporary theater companies have long wrestled with making "A Christmas Carol" fresh and engaging
9
In 'Greetings!' a family's belief system capsizes as old ...
Arts
Set in working-class Pittsburgh, "Greetings!" opens ... Set in working-class Pittsburgh, "Greetings!" opens with the Christmas visit of cynical New Yorker A ...