Review: Purity

PurityPurity by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was so very difficult to decide what to rate this book. Rarely has a book character just flat out irritated me so much . . . but irritated in a way that compelled me to keep reading. (For what it’s worth, I’m referring not to Purity, the main character, but Anabel, who shows up in one of the branching narratives. Purity herself was okay.)

This is often my experience with Franzen’s writing. Can I say that I really liked this book? If I didn’t like it, why couldn’t I put it down? Why did I race to finish it when my library’s due date edged closer? I’m convinced that this is indicative of a subtle talent and a prodigious skill, that I just. Kept. Reading. It’s still incredibly hard to know how to describe that feeling or even if I’d recommend the book. “I didn’t enjoy my time and yes, I was reading for pleasure, but it’s still a really good book?”

The story itself is classic Franzen, a world full of deeply flawed people. Purity herself breaks the mold from previous Franzen protagonists in that she’s actually a pretty likable person and her story is deeply compelling. The woven narrative between multiple characters creates a complex approach that I really enjoyed.

This book’s deepest flaw (aside from Anabel, who just drove me crazy with every page) is at that a book with sex and sexuality as a core theme, it’s a very unsexy book. I’m not sure if this is Franzen’s own writing style, if it’s intentional, or it’s due to the creepy Lolita vibe throughout the work, but I found myself skimming whenever clothes started coming off. Fortunately, that’s only a small percentage of the total book, so it wasn’t too much of a distraction.

I did roll my eyes at the line about how “Jonathan” just sounds like the name of a great writer. Really? Reeeeally?

And so we’re left with a flawed book that annoyed me more than almost anything I’ve ever read for my own enjoyment, but that I still read compulsively and could not put down. I don’t know what to make of that. I’m convinced that it means this work is brilliant. But it’s a weird place to be, mentally, and it makes for a hilariously awful blurb on the dust jacket.

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