Jonathan Franzen

At a time when the phrase “literary event” is a quaint anachronism (see Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture), a new novel from Jonathan Franzen may be as close as book lovers can come these days to tweezing a piece of the nation’s attention.


And it looks like he has delivered the goods again, at least according to the literary giant slayer Michiko Kakutani, who offered warm praise for Jonathan’s fifth novel, Purity, in the New York Times. Here’s how she opens her review:

“In a very funny passage in his dynamic new novel, Jonathan Franzen draws a very funny portrait of a writer struggling to write a novel “that would secure him his place in the modern American canon.” “Once upon a time,” this writer named Charles thinks, “it had sufficed to write ‘The Sound and the Fury’ or ‘The Sun Also Rises.’ But now bigness was essential. Thickness, length.”

“Mr. Franzen, of course, is famous for having written two big novels, The Corrections and Freedom, that gave readers big, wide-angled lenses on American middle-class life at the turn of the millennium and helped cement his reputation as one of his generation’s most gifted writers.

“His latest novel, Purity, is also big in terms of thickness and length, but it’s less panoramic in its ambitions. Although its gripping, foot-on-the-gas plot touches on the fall of the Berlin Wall, stolen Stasi files and a missing thermonuclear warhead in Texas, the novel remains closely focused on the stories of its main characters — a young California woman named Pip who is looking for her father, and a Julian Assange-like figure who is eager to get Pip to work for him in South America. These people’s efforts to sort out their identities and come to terms with the tangled mess of their private lives stand at the heart of what is Mr. Franzen’s most fleet-footed, least self-conscious and most intimate novel yet.”

Here’s how she concludes her review: “Mr. Franzen has added a new octave to his voice. In fact, even readers who have found his earlier work misanthropic, too filled with bile and spleen for their tastes, are likely to appreciate his ability here to not just satirize the darkest and pettiest of human impulses but to also capture his characters’ yearnings for connection and fresh starts — and to acknowledge the possibility of those hopes.”

Jonathan Franzen’s Top Ten List

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
3. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925).
4. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
6. Absalom, Abalom! by William Faulkner (1936).
7. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839).
8. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
9. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (1940).
10. Independent People by Halldór Laxness (1934).