Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
Crossroads, the first book in the Key to All Mythologies trilogy, is everything I love about Franzen – a big, American, family story. The author commands the luxury of time going deep into the psyches of each member of the Hildebrandt family, all terribly flawed, all trying to do good. The novel tackles themes of morality, religion, and GOD, to name a few of the big topics, while obviously including all we come to expect from domestic drama—misunderstanding, unrequited love, disappointment. The setting is 1971, small town Illinois with the Viet Nam war raging as a back-drop. The themes are set up to continue on in the trilogy, presumably propelling us toward the current day in the future installments of the trilogy. I listened to 25 hours of this audiobook eagerly, the narration offering so much to my enjoyment of it.
A tour de force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense, its action largely unfolding on a single winter day, Crossroads is the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless–unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
Jonathan Franzen’s novels are celebrated for their unforgettably vivid characters and for their keen-eyed take on contemporary America. Now, in Crossroads, Franzen ventures back into the past and explores the history of two generations. With characteristic humor and complexity, and with even greater warmth, he conjures a world that resonates powerfully with our own.
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