The author of the The Corrections and Freedom returns with an epic tale about recent college graduate Purity—also known as "Pip"—who has a load of student-loan debt and a neurotic mother who refuses to reveal Pip's father's identity. When she moves to Bolivia to work for a WikiLeaks-like company run by a mysterious figure named Andreas Wolf, Pip struggles to behave ethically as she is asked to engage in suspicious activities and begins to uncover some important secrets.
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.