Friday, February 26, 2016

PURITY




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Purity, Jonathan Franzen, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015, 563 pp


Summary from Goodreads: Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother--her only family--is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life.

Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world--including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.


My Review:
I am not a Franzen hater. A new novel by him is a happy event for me. I started reading him with The Corrections. I loved it. Then I read Freedom and loved that. With Purity, he got to me again.

Since the book has been reviewed everywhere in the usual outlets and on the reader sites (2056 reviews on Goodreads alone) I am not much inclined to add to the clamor. But several of my fellow bloggers have told me they were looking forward to my thoughts on it. I will give you those.

Jonathan Franzen is a good story teller. By the time I'd read only about 10 pages, I just relaxed and settled in. I have gotten that feeling in both previous books. I am fiercely interested in finding out what is going to happen and he goes ahead and tells me.

Pip (nickname for a young woman named Purity) is a fabulous character: conflicted, damaged, but with a strong inclination to keep her own counsel and make her own decisions. Not all are good decisions but she knows she made them.

The backgrounds of her parents make for fascinating tales of their own. And the mystery for Pip as to who they are makes for gripping reading. I especially liked how he handled that.

Parts of the novel take place in East Germany under communist rule and curtailed by the famous wall. It is unusual to find a character in an American bestseller who was formed (or deformed) under a totalitarian regime.

I also liked the book length exploration of the way that the internet has influenced journalism, the proliferation of information distribution, and the near impossibility of containing secrets. Though you can find articles-on the internet-about these things, Franzen brings in his own unique viewpoints.

I participate sparingly in Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and I read an insane amount of on-line articles about writers and books. Some days it is fun, some days I learn bunches of intriguing stuff in under an hour, and some days I feel crazy. Purity just blew all that away, confirmed the superficiality of such pursuits while simultaneously making me a more savvy and discriminating internet user.

At the end of the book I felt I'd been entertained and enlightened at the same time. What more can I ask of a novel? Well, lots more and I do and that's why I read all kinds of them. So far though, through three big Franzen novels, I have liked what I got. 


(Purity is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. The paperback will be out August 2, 2106.) 

11 comments:

  1. Like you, I enjoyed The Corrections and Freedom, but for some reason, I've felt conflicted about reading Purity. You've convinced me though. I'm putting it on my TBR list.

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    1. Good Dorothy! I hope you like it.

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  2. Sounds like an intriguing novel. I would like to read it.

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    1. Carmen, have you read any of his earlier ones?

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    2. I haven't, but this one I would like to.

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  3. I love good storytellers, Franzen seems to be my type of writer!! You know Judy, I'm always impatient to read your thoughts about books. So entertaining and yet accurate. Sorry to be nosy, but have you ever thought writing your own books??? Have a lovely weekend.

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    1. I appreciate your words! I am working on some of my own writing but I am not very disciplined and I like reading more than I like writing.

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    2. Thank you Judy. Have a lovely week ahead ; -)

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  4. I'm definitely curious about the issues you talk about that are in Purity and I haven't read Franzen's novels yet. I just saw another blog post on Purity which seemed a bit rough at https://52booksorbust.wordpress.com . But if it's good storytelling then I should try it.

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    1. I would characterize that "review" as rough. I did not find Pip to be a "weak, flawed, needy, abused" character. She had her moments, she came by them honestly, but she rose above. I also don't think creating a conflicted female character constitutes misogyny. But no one has to like the novel. I did.

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    2. Yeah I figure you're probably as big a feminist or pro women's rights ally as I am -- so I know you'd pick up on misogyny in a minute -- which makes me think the other reviewer was likely looking at it quite differently or reading something in that wasn't necessarily there

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