Franzen’s prose is alive with intelligence, and on the first page of his new novel, Purity, a reader can see his mind at work on a task at which he excels: showing the way people think ... the experience of reading Purity is as propulsive as that of reading The Corrections and Freedom (2010). The downside: there’s a certain sameness to the experience of reading all three novels. The characters in Purity may be new, but their sardonic, harried, going-for-broke attitude is familiar, and once again they’re wrestling with some of the most inflammatory topics of the day ... The solid pleasure here is in the close observation of voices. Franzen once joked in print about giving up on the late novels of Henry James, but there’s an uncanny convergence between him and the Master ... For Franzen’s readers, the experience of having their spectacles...distorted and demolished can be a little flummoxing. But thanks to the safe remove that fiction affords—and thanks to the sense of 'pleasure and connection' offered by characters whose minds seem alive in the same way as the reader’s own—the ride is exhilarating. All the way down.
As Pip moves in and out of the book...it appears at first that she does not have sufficient substance to hold the narrative. She can feel bad about herself and the world, she can be feisty, but her sensibility is not rich enough and she is too passive to make her the main character in a novel of this length. Or so it seems for the first half, before the very weaknesses in her personality become essential to the novel’s progress and the reader’s interest ... a novel of plenitude and panorama. Sometimes, there is too much sprawl, but it can suggest a sort of openness and can have a strange, insistent way of pulling us in, holding our attention ... this novel views its world and its characters as too interesting and too filled with varying motives and fascinating intent not to want to describe them with surges of energy and enthusiasm ... Franzen has toned down the all-knowingness and the irony that he used to full effect in Freedom, at the cost of making the sentences here less elegant and sharp, more relaxed and anodyne. The book is written in a sort of deliberate non-style that is chatty, colloquial, informative, unshowy. Readers are unlikely to purr with pleasure ... Purity, in other words, depends more on story than on style. It can seem, in fact, as though there is a battle going on in the novel between the slackness of its style and the amount of sharp detail and careful noticing ... This colorful use of plot, along with the loose, inelegant style and the introduction of multiple subplots and side characters, take their bearings less from Dickens than from Anthony Trollope, and give Purity, as it captures a society in a state of flux, a leisurely 19th-century appeal ... It is, in its way, an ambitious novel, in that it deals with the way we live now, but there is also a sense of modesty at its heart as Franzen seems determined not to write chiseled sentences that draw attention to themselves.
Purity presents us with a host of fascinating but flawed, powerful and complex female characters ... Purity is one of the best new novels I’ve read this year, a complex and clever tale with all the telltale markings of the author’s classics, but with a marked lightness and freshness of tone and touch ... Purity has a pleasurable jigsaw-like quality, with certain perfectly timed reveals that highlight how different its structure is to either The Corrections or Freedom.
Franzen once again begins with a family, but his ravenous intellect strides the globe, drawing us through a collection of cleverly connected plots infused with Major Issues of the Day ... Everybody harbors secrets: shameful, disgusting, sometimes deadly secrets. If that adolescent revelation gets a bit too much emphasis in these pages, at least it’s smartly considered and reconsidered in the seven distinct but connected sections that make up the book ... Purity demonstrates Franzen’s ingenious plotting, his ability to steer the chaos of real life toward moments that feel utterly surprising yet inevitable ... one hears Franzen’s well-known complaints about the tyranny of the Web and the inanity of social media, but these criticisms are so effectively integrated into the mind of this hypocritical Internet warrior [character] that the novel never dissolves into a cranky essay ... almost 600 pages requires an extraordinarily engaging style, and in Purity Franzen writes with a perfectly balanced fluency that has sometimes eluded him in the past. He’s grown more transparent as a narrator, still brilliant and endlessly allusive, but less nervous about mugging for attention. And when he switches—only once—to narrate a section in the voice of one of his characters, it sounds wholly authentic ... if Purity isn’t as much fun as The Corrections, it’s free of the self-indulgence that sometimes marred that fantastic novel.
... what a limber, untroubled, deliciously fluent piece of fiction it is ... Purity...has a larkish air ... a novel that in truth has happily surrendered itself to the pleasures of story and character ... Skeptical, loyal, self-deprecating, determined, Pip provides the novel with a grounding sensibility ... The Bolivia section of Purity melds the sensual overload of the tropics with precise, chilled satire, here targeting the Information Age’s propensity for unfounded utopianism and cults of personality ... I read these passages as sheer impishness, the high spirits of an author relaxing into his considerable native gifts. Of all the things people expect from a new Franzen novel, who’d have anticipated that more than anything else it would be so much fun?
So intricate is the...plot that I can’t connect many dots without revealing perhaps one detail too many. But as with all Franzen’s work, it’s the ambitious means by which the novel reveals itself that makes the book, not the plot ... Reading Purity is pretty heady going, and calls for a willingness to let an avalanche of intellect, politics, psychology, and allusions to high and low culture cascade down upon you ... But that rigor is rewarding in that we come to know, through the book’s dense web of associations, the whole of the lives of the people involved in Pip’s quest, a quest that reveals itself to be a matter of life and death ... The reading experience on Purity, with all the logic-tracing it demands, can be exhausting, too. But as in all Franzen’s novels, and now so very powerfully in Purity, it is the history of his players that matters. Franzen’s exhaustive exploration of their motives, charted oftentimes over decades so as to deliver us to this moment when the plot turns on the past in the seemingly smallest of ways, is what makes him such a fine writer, and his books important. He is a fastidious portrait artist and an epic muralist at once, and the compact passage above, mapping the self-consciousness we all live within, is in micro what this very macro book is all about: human response, for better and for worse, to human response.
Purity marries characters of lifelike quirkiness with up-to-the-minute social commentary ... The wisdom and insights are often bracing, the writing punctuated by nifty metaphors ... But for me it ultimately wasn’t as satisfying as his last two novels. Franzen’s large-scale exploration of ideological purity and compromise feels a tad déjà vu ... Purity seems grimmer even than Franzen’s substantially—if reasonably—grim previous novels ... Purity's critique of the digital world felt overwrought to me ... Still, much of Purity is engaging and brilliant. Few contemporary authors make characters as vitally alive and heartbreaking in their failures as Franzen does. However flawed, his new novel is still a work to be reckoned with.
Purity is a boldly and, in certain respects, preposterously plotted novel ... a kind of social novel, albeit a highly stylised one ... [the] perverse logic of displaced violence draws the novel into some deep and murky waters. It represents a significant, if not entirely successful, attempt by Franzen to extend the psychological range of his fiction ... Freedom was an unusually lachrymose novel, but with Purity Franzen may have outdone himself ... And it begins to suggest what is odd and unconvincing about Purity. Many of these moments do not have the affective power they are presumably meant to have. The crying comes to signify a depth of feeling the writing has been unable to summon, a psychological distress it has not made palpable. Franzen is a patient and often effective writer when it comes to drawing out the complexities of his characters and their interactions on a quotidian level; his satirical eye is often sharp. It is when he tries to portray his characters in extremis...that he starts to hit some odd notes ... Purity regularly tests the boundaries of its surface realism, with its credulity-testing plot twists, its sly parallels and doublings, its patina of dodgy Freudianism ... Purity’s critique of our media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted historical moment is so thin ... its argument between traditional journalism and new media is a damp squib ... What Purity seems unable or unwilling to do, however, is distinguish between a material criticism of the world we live in and the novelistic conceit that casts the Internet as the symbol of a psychologically destructive infinity.
Comic, ranting males abound in his last two novels, but Purity as a whole is comparatively humorless in ways that are both intentional and not ... Purity is baggy—comprising several deep, character-driven sections linked together by a series of unlikely events. Wolf’s segments are in a jarring, significantly darker key than that of Franzen’s previous fiction ... there’s a polemic built into Wolf that his character is finally a bit too flimsy to support ... in Purity...the world is sometimes only an echo of a world that should be familiar ... Purity sang for me in its least overtly culturally relevant moments—like the complex romantic history of Pip’s mentor ... I think Jonathan Franzen is a wonderful novelist. I don’t know him, but I often feel like he knows me, and for that I love him. His work is most vulnerable to attack when it tries too visibly to be the chief diagnoser and prognosticator of 'the culture.' It is most meaningful when it deals in those 'singularities within the profusion.' Still, it endeavors always to do both—and therein, I think, lies its essential goodness, its essential purity.
A new Jonathan Franzen novel...feels like a banquet ... His latest is no exception ... As the narrative weaves across six decades and three continents, some threads inevitably become more compelling than others. The book is at its heady best when it takes on two of Franzen’s favorite subjects: the strange compromises of modern life and the more timeless mysteries of human behavior. But it can be exhausting, too, in part because—not to beat a dead literary mare—of his often shockingly ugly take on women. To be fair, his so-called Female Problem may be more a function of general misanthropy than misogyny ... the book’s comparatively gentle treatment of Pip begins to feel less like kindness than mere disinterest in her inner world. Maybe Franzen did grow tired of his creation; the book ends suddenly, somewhere between a bang and a whimper. It’s as if after more than 560 enraging, engaging pages he’s pushed his chair away from the table, finally full—whether or not his reader feels the same.
... a fat, brilliant novel of politics, marriage, and the Internet ... Franzen remains an extremely fine noticer ... Seemingly unconnected narrative warheads begin to gradually, and then thrillingly, converge. Soon you are less turning pages than flipping toward the mushroom cloud ... If the how of this book sometimes strains credulity—a cruel decision Wolf makes late in the novel will be a flashpoint of criticism—it is never uninteresting.
... [Franzen's] signature qualities converge in a new, commanding fluidity, from his inquiry into damaged families to his awed respect for nature, brainy drollery, and precise, resonant detail ... [a] masterfully plotted tale populated by exceptionally complex characters caught in an ever-expanding web of startling connections and consequences ... Franzen has created a spectacularly engrossing and provocative twenty-first-century improvisation on Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, Great Expectations.
Franzen succeeds more than he fails, but the failures are damning ... Gradually, it becomes clear that Franzen's greatest strength is his extensive, intricate narrative web—which includes a murder in Berlin, stolen nukes in Amarillo, and a billion-dollar trust. Though the novel lacks resonance, its pieces fit together with stunning craftsmanship.
A twisty but controlled epic that merges large and small concerns ... a story in which every character is engaged in complex moral wrestling ... Franzen is burrowing deep into each person’s questionable sense of his or her own goodness and suggests that the moral rot can metastasize to the levels of corporations and government. And yet the novel’s prose never bogs down into lectures, and its various back stories are as forceful as the main tale of Purity’s fate ... he’s admirably determined to think big and write well about our darkest emotional corners. An expansive, brainy, yet inviting novel that leaves few foibles unexplored.