I Wanna Be Literated #246

I Wanna Be Literated #246

Monday, 10 January 2022

by Jonathan Franzen

I watch so much fiction (movies, TV shows), that I make up for it with the books I read. I didn’t read much last year, but when I did, I tried to stick to non-fiction, autobiographies, etc. But when Jonathan Franzen releases a book, that all comes to a stop. I’m what you would call a literary dum-dum. I judge books by their covers. I can’t recognize an elegant sentence if it was repeated for an entire chapter. But when I first read Franzen I was exposed to new things, mostly a change in protagonist perspective that was actually interesting. When I first read the Corrections, I was furious that I had to switch from one character to the next, but as I kept reading I realized that it just puts the dynamics of the characters into perspective when they interact. You learn about these characters and it makes it much more meaningful when you see what leads to their decisions. I was expecting the same kind of in-depth character development in Crossroads and was very pleased by what I found.

Crossroads takes place in the context of a youth group which touches the lives of this family in many ways: it’s their job, or their escape, or their means to an end. Wherever the characters go, their course is influenced by what they experienced at Crossroads. As someone who grew up Christian (but not THAT Christian) it was still very informative to learn how complicated a family’s relationship can be with their church and how it can offer both new opportunities or limit their options altogether. The family at the center is full of rich, complex characters, and Franzen’s writing is in-depth and interesting. His pacing is engaging and the interesting stories he weaves keeps the reader invested. It’s impressive how Franzen can write characters that are so different from one another and do it in a very complex way. As the perspective shifts from one member of the family to the next we understand that what one person considers a mistake is part of a complex struggle they are going through. You come to care for these individuals (well, most of them), and just when you think you’ve figured them out, something surprising happens.

I said I’m a literary dum-dum and even though I’ve been told that the prose in Crossroads isn’t exactly mentally stimulating to book nerds I found myself rereading some sentences over and over to appreciate how they were constructed and the message they conveyed. So, for me, it added another level of depth to this book.

I found out after I had read Crossroads that this is the first of a planned trilogy on this family, so I’m looking forward to revisiting these characters and reinhabiting this world. Franzen is one of the greatest living authors today (so I’m told), and it’s nothing short of amazing to see that he’s still accomplishing great things. Who knows, this might be his master-work in the making.

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