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Franzen's freshman effort is striking. First, just gazing at the picture of Franzen on the back of the original novel and it makes me think this kid must have been gnawing on ideas for this book in his mother's womb. Seriously, he looks like he might be wearing the same deodorant his dad gave him at puberty.
Anyway, I was inspired to read this book because I was heading to St. Louis for a couple days and figured given the recent Ferguson-inspired race tensions, there might never be a more appropriate time to crack Franzen's novel about an Indian woman who takes over as the St. Louis chief of police. There is sex, violence, politics, intrigue, etc.. It is a thriller that aspires to be literary, or a thriller written by someone who is simply writing in the wrong genre.
The book is ambitious, messy (plot threads abandoned all over the place), inventive, cracked in places, but destined to stick around. I say that knowing that there are some serious Franzen haters out there. I also say that knowing this isn't his best work (by far). But in 1988, Franzen wrote a novel that seems to have almost perfectly captured the paranoid, xenophobic, social and race conflict that surrounds President Obama (birth certificate, etc). Imagine while reading this novel that Obama is Jammu and the United States is St. Louis and let the details slide from Ferguson to the Gateway Arch and there you are.
Franzen's fixation on the American family (both in its function and disfunction) is in pupae form here. Family dinners, tensions between spouses, extra-marital encounters, spoiled children, holiday tensions, they all germ here. His prose is great, if a bit uneven (brilliant in parts and boring in others). His plot is complicated. His setting masterful. Again, this isn't a masterpiece, but it was a clear indication of his future ambition and trajectory.
20 of 23 people found this review helpful
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
Anyone who enjoys novels that don't draw in the reader, have somewhat confusing story lines and at times just .. droned on without a point. And some of that is typical for Franzen, but he generally ties it all in together at some point. Not here.
Would you ever listen to anything by Jonathan Franzen again?
I have listened to every novel by Franzen and this is the only exception to a man I consider one of the greatest two or three living authors.
Which character – as performed by Meetu Chilana – was your favorite?
None stick out, but this wasn't the fault of the reader. I think she did a great job with the characters and subject matter.
If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Twenty-Seventh City?
Scenes weren't the problem, so none. I finished the novel and, at the end, asked myself why. What was the point? I'm somewhat surprised Franzen's publisher re-released this rubbish, though I suppose it got me to
2 of 3 people found this review helpful