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Clever but not profound. Prurient but not sensual. Sex without love. Love Without sex. Mothers without daughters; daughters without fathers. Obsession without inspiration. Questions with no answers. Answers without epiphanies. Facts devoid of truth. In sum: art that entertains but does not edify.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
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.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful