Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen

READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

All members of a clergy family find themselves at a crossroads of life

❝ The Hilderbrandts are a clery family from New Prospect, Illinois. The minister father heads a youth group named Crossroads, yet this reference also pertains to all the members of the Hilderbrandt family, who are all in a quandary of sorts and making important decisions that will influence their futures.

Russ and Marion each have reasons to end their joyless marriage which they are exploring. Russ is attracted to a woman in the parish. Marion is hiding a dark past which is coming back to mentally and emotionally plague her. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college, having taken an action that he knows will upset his father. Becky, the social queen of her high-school class, is questioning her faith and her relationships, while Perry has been selling drugs to seventh graders but resolves to be a better person.

The use of religion and belief as a central theme allows Franzen the opportunity to explore the ways in which faith assumes varying forms, and the distinct ways in which people use religion to justify, explain or gain moral superiority over others. All of the five Hilderbrandts have different expectations and outcomes from their religiosity. Their faith, their actions, and their opinions show an accurate level of humanness and the wide gambit of religious interpretation that exists.

Your father doesn’t look to our Saviour but to what other men think of him. He preaches love but holds a grudge like no man’s business.

❝ This was an absolutely mammoth read and I was hoping with all my heart it would also be a good read, as the thought of tackling something that size and not enjoying it was almost overwhelming! Franzen more than delivered and I found Crossroads engaging from the very first paragraph to the last. Discovering this was the first of a trilogy was exciting and I look forward to hearing about what happens to the Hildebrandt family as they move through the years. – Suzy

❝ From the outset it is clear the characterisation performed by Franzen is extensive. I got a real sense that I knew these people and understood why they behaved as they did. Even the characters that were quite annoying I still found generally likeable due to their completeness. I liked the threading of religious faith through the book as it gave me an insight into the many variations around religious interpretation. Overall, a great story that I found easy to read.  – Jo

❝ As usual Franzen has mastered genuine depictions of ordinary people, accurately bringing to life characters of all ages and identities. This masterful creativity was the highlight of the book for me. I also enjoyed examining religion as a societal convention from the aspect of many different people’s belief systems. And a 70s rebellion/drugs/sex/rock’n’roll theme is always fun. I liked and enjoyed this book, but it didn’t knock my socks off like some of Franzen’s other works have. – Rachel

Crossroads was a novel I was drawn into from the start. It wasn’t the plot or content but the characters that had me absorbed. Frazen is very clever at developing the five family members, around whom the novel is centred. He paints a realistic picture of their lives falling apart within a very religious mid-western community. The strong religious belief of the family and community was quite eye opening and fascinated me as its something I know little about. The family and community were on the edge of crises throughout the novel, which was a a huge page turner. – Jodie

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Published 2021
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
580 pages

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