Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel is at once an engrossing family saga and a fascinating character study. Set in the fictional small town of New Prospect, Illinois, Crossroads takes its readers straight to 70’s America, slowly submerging them in the tribulations of the Hildebrandt Family until the domestic drama feels all-encompassing.
The plot follows Russ, a disgraced pastor obsessed with one of the new members of his congregation, and his brilliant but depressed wife Marion, as they both come to terms with their personal, professional, and marital failures. Meanwhile, three of their four children, Clem, Becky, and Perry, struggle to make sense of the building blocks of life as the Vietnam war rages on.
The third person narrative alternates its focus, diving into one of the five characters’ inner life and personal history one chapter at a time. The result is an extremely dynamic story, spanning multiple decades and landscapes without ever feeling heavy handed or messy. Indeed, each chapter is almost a puzzle piece in a jigsaw that gradually comes together before the reader’s eyes.
A book to get lost in, as well as a worthy kickstart to A Key to All Mythologies, a trilogy which promises to follow the Hildebrandt lineage right up to contemporary times. Hopefully, it will maintain its brilliant style and multi-layered approach to history, politics, and people. Definitely, Franzen at his best.