The Monday Book – Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Guest review by Janelle Bailey, retired Literature teacher.

Jonathan Franzen has long been a dependable author for me. I have a number of his books on my shelved have reads as well as a number more in my to-be-read stacks. I do not devour them all at once like I have other authors’ works when I first meet and LOVE them and for a couple of reasons. Franzen’s works are…well, work. Several are of tome-length, and few are upbeat, to say the least, but rather are dives into, as another reading friend put it, the “banality of humanity.” And those are not tomes “for everyone.”

And while this last statement is not true of all Franzen books, it does tend to be the reality of the larger ones—The Corrections, Purity—and that holds true in Crossroads. One has to buck up in ways to dig into another book about Americans who have all sorts of plenty mis-placing their energy in erring up things they could manage much better—parenting, spousing, and more.

I did enjoy the 1970s, Midwestern US setting, and even the “hippie”-ness of the characters. While just a little kid in the 70s myself, I could still identify with and “see” the “older kids” in my neighborhood and at my church, growing up, as the members of Franzen’s “youth group,” Crossroads. And I related as well to how the arrogance and ego of even the best-intentioned people can destroy efforts toward good for all.

While I might argue a few things to be a tad anachronistic, overall Franzen created this community as believable, their faith in the music and story even more than the church and God relate-able, some of their issues and concerns more relevant than others, but overall its addressing beyond faith and religion of topics like parenting, drug abuse, travel, marriage, identity, mental illness, finances, and more to be interesting and thought-provoking. This would be a great book club book, I think, for the discussion that could ensue.

I relish the opportunity to visit about it with some others before finalizing even my own review. Just like most books are better than the movie, many books are better after a good book club discussion…or in lieu of that, a visit with another reader. It is that aspect of reading good to great—heck, even bad!—books with others, having someone with whom to discuss it and who has a different perspective and opinion from one’s own, that really brings my reading of any book to “completion,” even after I’ve written my review.

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