The first installment of a new trilogy from the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections and Freedom. Crossroads is a family saga set in a Chicago suburb in the early 1970s, where each of the dysfunctional Hildebrandts (led by associate pastor/patriarch-in-turmoil, Russ) is experiencing a seismic identity crisis.
Giving up, for now, in Crossroads, on representing present youth, Franzen has doubled down on representing the white ones’ parents and grandparents as the impressionable, inquisitive, and dynamically flawed young men and women that they once had been. In dreams, as a once-famed tale from the Depression had it, begin responsibilities ... To set a novel half a century in the past, as he now does, is something like dealing oneself a full house. In playing to his strengths so inordinately he has unlocked a new, late style, distinct from the well-hewn blocks of prose poetry typical of his first three novels or the mashed-potatoes-and-gravy consistency of his last two. The Corrections was a masterpiece, but Crossroads is his finest novel yet. Unpolished and unsloppy, difficult to quote or fault, his free indirect style sticks to the contours of consciousness and attempts not one thing else. In a quiet and uncanny fashion it is entirely adequate: a prosaic causeway coursing through the swamp at night ... Though no serious fiction writer would impose their own belief upon their readers, what Crossroads does make clear is that Franzen, through his characters, has rendered it impossible for readers not to be engaged by the most momentous questions of faith ... His ambition in this novel is not only to mirror society, but to return the individual reader to themselves, to grind a lens in which the major questions structuring our single lives on Earth retain their focus and integrity. All of this sounds Dostoyevskian because (with the requisite adaptation for American environs) it is ... Crossroads is Franzen’s greatest and most perfect novel to date, but more importantly, it is his most promising: an inexhaustible resource for future novels, and not only his own. What impresses most is the sense that its successors, hopefully present soon, will all but certainly exceed it.
[A] masterful, Tolstoyan saga of an unhappy family. Members of the dysfunctional Hildebrandt clan are deeply flawed, insecure, cringe-inducingly self-destructive, and, in Franzen’s psychologically astute rendering, entirely authentic and human ... This masterpiece of social realism vividly captures each character’s internal conflicts as a response to and a reflection of societal expectations, while Franzen expertly explores the fissions of domestic life, mining the rich mineral beneath the sediments of familial discord. In this first volume of a promised trilogy, Franzen is in rarified peak form.
It says a lot that, at almost 600 pages, Franzen’s latest novel, set amid the waning years of the Vietnam War, leaves you wanting more ... Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite.