PurityPurity by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

if you got a dime for every time somebody betrayed someone else in this book, you’d have a lot of dimes. add in the times that people betray themselves, you’ve probably collected the dime equivalent of dinner for two.

i listened to the audiobook version and it definitely colored my reading of the book, particularly Pip’s voice. i pretty much loathed her within minutes. Franzen tells us a score of times that she’s funny, but no, i don’t think so. i think she’s a snotty, spoiled little whiner. that makes the book a little difficult to get off the ground with, Pip being the opener.

come to think of it, the only characters that i did find truly likable are all minor characters, so minor that sometimes they don’t even have names.

so ya, makes it a bit of a grind when you don’t like any of the people, no matter how well-drawn. leaves you with connecting only on a semantic or a thematic level.

so i started listening to the themes: purity/dirtiness; truth/lies; trust and the lack thereof. mothers and children. how a person or a family or a society can delude themselves into believing an obvious falsity.

but at this point i also started getting bugged by Franzen’s notions of feminism. like, he can’t seem to stop taking smirky swipes at feminists (e.g., the uniform in the 80s was overalls) and labelling people feminists that i absolutely would not call feminists. he’s made his two main male characters sympathetic to women on the surface, but at least one has some serious internal conflicts. all the guys are stuck to some degree in my generation’s “battle of the sexes”: they’re pissed off when women aren’t male-centered.

but the hell of it is, in this book, pretty much all the women are male-centered. all the men are female-centered. nobody seems to have a rich life outside their relationships, and nobody has enough inner balance to not argue like an adolescent. or put someone else first in a healthy way. or fail at every chance not to be neurotic.

the more i try to write about this book, the less clear it’s becoming in my mind. that doesn’t happen often… what a muddle.

did i like it? was it worth the ride? i’m still waiting for him to write something as wonderful as The Corrections.

ps. so what i do for these reviews is do my best to write my thoughts with clarity and precision, and then go read others’ reviews of the book sort of as a reality check, as a way of seeing whether i missed some important aspect of the book, or whether there are other ways of understanding events or characters.

what’s interesting in the reviews of this book is that most of the reviewers seem as unable as i am to say something coherent. is the book itself a coherence bomb? maybe the NSA figured out the exact right sequence of words to forever destroy a person’s ability to connect dots. in which case Franzen’s Wolf side is probably laughing its ass off.

no! no! the only logical conclusion is that the book itself is a hot mess. that’s what i really thought but couldn’t nail down. now all those other reviewers’ dribblings make perfect sense.