Purity | Jonathan Franzen | 2015 | 576 pages
Purity, literary rock star Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, centers on the story of Pip Tyler, a twentysomething college graduate with a neurotic mother, a mountain of student debt, and a burning desire to find out who her father is. Her search flings her from California to Denver to South America, where she joins up with the something called the Sunlight Project and its founder, Andreas Wolf. Wolf is an infamous international celebrity leaker on the order of Edward Snowden who promises to help Pip find her father. After a torrid love affair with a super creepy Wolf, Pip whipsaws back to America, where her story is wound down and the book ends.
Sound lame? That’s because it is.
Franzen is a superstar for a reason; The Corrections and Freedom, his last two books, have both met the rare triple threshold of high readability, literary complexity and massive commercial success. With Purity, Franzen will achieve only the latter, and thanks only to his name on the cover. The book is a jumbled mess of increasingly bizarre and implausible plot twists and character developments. It feels like Franzen is trying to do too much and doing it five years too late. The book has a distinct feeling of a lack of staying power or timelessness; Wolf [protagonist 2] is Julian Assange a decade after Assange became relevant and with nothing more to drive the reader than a bit of curiosity as to who Pip’s father is [but no one really cares; there’s nothing really riding on it] and whether she’ll be able to pay off her student loans, getting through all 500+ pages of this thing is a chore.