Purity

  • by Jonathan Franzen
  • Narrated by Jenna Lamia, Dylan Baker, Robert Petkoff
  • 25 hrs and 0 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A magnum opus for our morally complex times from the author of Freedom.
Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother - her only family - is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she'll ever have a normal life.
Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world - including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.
Purity is a grand story of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has imagined a world of vividly original characters - Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers - and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Purity is the most daring and penetrating book yet by one of the major writers of our time.
This audiobook includes a bonus conversation with the author.

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What the Critics Say

"In short, the book is a dream for any narrator who is itching to demonstrate his or her acting range, as Jenna Lamia, Dylan Baker, and Robert Petkoff handily do. Their performances are uniformly engaging and engrossing; together, they make the listening time fly by. Anyone weighing the potential return on investment of reading all 587 pages can safely turn the heavy lifting over to them." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Glad I listened; equally glad it's over.

Purity is no Corrections. I loved The Corrections and will go back to it again and again. I loved the wit, the neurotic, yet self-aware characters. This novel is different. Far more complex, and an amazing intellectual achievement. I am glad I engaged with the book for this reason. But it is dark, and despite Franzen's assertion that it is a comic novel, it is nearly devoid of wit. It is totally charmless, and I grew increasingly depressed during the time I was listening. The characters are nearly all sick unhappy people who had terrible mothers and absent fathers (therefore, they cannot be whole). Further, he just gets women wrong. It's been said repeatedly about Franzen, and it's true. It is astonishingly arrogant for a male author to embody the mind of a young woman to this degree with such male gusto. It is utterly unimaginative that his conclusion is that woman want to give themselves sexually, always, to the most powerful man in the room. We just don't. In Franzen's world view, women are total victims of their hormones: our drive to reproduce and to do it with the most powerful man we can get. Men are victims too, but they are able, unlike women, to embrace reason and intellect.

But: Franzen. We have to get used to this side of his character if we want to experience his otherwise brilliant storytelling. He deeply dislikes women despite his constant protestations to the contrary. He does not understand women. He doesn't. He thinks he does and he thinks so with such imperious delusion that many people believe him. He is a victim, no doubt, of his own weird relationship with his mother and doesn't seem to grasp that it was a highly personal, idiosyncratic experience exclusive to him. It was not universal. Even his one glorious female character, 55-year-old career woman Leila, only pines for the child she never had, and is jealous of women who come into her partner Tom's life. Women are thus reduced by Franzen to non-intellectual sacks of hormones who cannot choose to not breed or hump the most powerful man in the room. That said, he does not like men either, but prefers them to women. Men can be reasonable despite the fact that they are also, all of them, driven to hump the most comely woman in the room. They can be reasonable despite the fact that they are all predators, it seems.

And yet: Franzen. We can't expect otherwise. It's like going to see a Tarantino movie and being shocked by self-satisfied dialog and grotesque violence.

This story, while complex and satisfying, suffers from melodrama. One of its set pieces is the alpha male Andres Wolf coming to grips with a murder. It is set up as a justifiable murder and he is set up as the sort of man who could intellectualize it out of his conscience, and yet there is a rippling overreaction to it that is entirely overwrought and ultimately unbelievable. Since this overreaction provides the ultimate denouement of the entire novel, the reader is left unsatisfied after having had such a massive slog through pathos.

In short, there is so much to respect, and much to be grateful isn't real.
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- ScatterShark

Not a case of Franzenfreude


You see, women supposedly can't criticize this author's novels without being accused of resentment towards the author. A long story that dates back to 2010: "[Jennifer] Weiner, Jodi Picoult, and other prominent female writers argued that acclaim for Franzen came at the expense of women writers, whose work has historically been ignored by book reviewers—in particular those on staff at The New York Times." I read his first book... I stand Corrected; I tried. I picked up Freedom, I put it down. Seemed I just couldn't do whiny, and didn't want to review and add substance to either side of the debate.

Determined to get one down by this "Great American Novelist," I figured I would do a read along with my superior reading pal Darwin. I texted him this message when I finished: "I have never been so happy to have a book come to an end than I was with this!" And I meant it: even while I was dazzled by Franzen's intelligence that highlighted my own inferiority; the elegant technical structure and his dexterity in steering these detailed threads (each of them their own novella) towards his end goal; his ability to keep his clutches tightened around my throat when I wanted nothing more than to just to get away.

Regardless of the oodles of talent Franzen has been blessed with and/or developed, I mostly disliked this very good book. My general dissatisfaction -- a few degrees short of hostility -- is not because of the gratuitous onanism; I read Portnoy's Complaint, loved Suttree with the watermelon violator (though I do feel the need to throw in a foul flag here and issue a warning to readers). It is because of his gross misrepresentation of women across the board, and from what I've read elsewhere, not just with this book. Now don't go pegging me an ultra feminist; I haven't burned a bra and I shave under my arms, and I have never stamped the anti-fem label on anything, but I don't like when my gender is made to look like the doors of mental institutions have sprung wide, spitting from their maws nothing but XX chromosome fruitcakes. Right now, I dislike him, I think I even dislike his mocking, misogynist face!

I can't help myself from wondering, why should it be any more acceptable to continually generalize women this way (or men) than it is to write that all white people can't dance, that all black Americans like chicken and waffles, that all Mexicans hate Donald Trump? -- in my mind, it is offensive, demeaning, and wrong. How far do we broaden the parameters of the literary-tactic-by-a-literary-superstar pass? Isn't a blatant and morally disparaging generalization a blatant and morally disparaging generalization -- hiding behind artistic expression to hurl boulders... ah, what do I know? Maybe Franzen's portrayal of women is nothing more than Sam Tanenhaus' statement: "Franzen has an “otherworldly feel for female characters.” [The New Republic]. I hope Mr. T is not offended by me saying his minimization shows his "vast male dullness or sensitivity of a fence post -- which may or may not be gender related, I have to add to be fair. Because I wouldn't want to assume that all men are like [him]." (Chosen from the words of Patricia Cornwell; The Body Farm.)

I won't deny Franzen's talent. If I could be just pragmatic after reading this instead of embarrassed to be a female, I could recommend. My XX chromosome deleted the fourth *. Franzen was too visible in this novel, too aware of his own intellectual power just beneath the nearly perfect style. I felt like he was mocking me as a reader with his low rung "otherworldly" portrayals juxtaposed with his clever insights into society, as if he was challenging me to fight passed the insults purposely flung, to grab the prize. (Darwin8U-XY gave the perfect example with Andy Kaufman analogy.)

What are those lyrics?: "I hate myself for loving you?" "I love myself for hating you"...Right now I seem to be a little confused.
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- Mel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-01-2015
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio