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Strong Motion: A Novel Paperback – September 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Louis Holland's father is a bemused left-wing historian, his mother a frustrated social-climber; his sister Eileen is a woman of picturesque self-absorption who takes off for business school in Boston. Louis, bespectacled, bland and prematurely balding, is a radio buff. A series of unrelated events--the mother's inheritance of $22 million, Louis's landing a radio job in Boston, among others--brings this commonplace, unhappy family together at the center of myriad transformations. "Strong motion" refers to the ground-shaking of earthquakes; mysteriously, Boston is being racked by them. As it turns out, the inherited money is tied up in a company that Louis's girlfriend Renee, a seismologist, suspects is causing the disturbances by injecting toxic waste into wells. In an accidental but fateful confrontation, Renee makes derogatory comments about an anti-abortion group's leader. The interweaving of women's reproductive rights issues with environmental disaster places the author (as well as the characters) on shaky ground. Such complicated themes, sounded against the backdrop of a lightly sketched Boston, seem poorly served by having one family heroically sort them out. After the stunning perfections of Franzen's first novel ( The Twenty-Seventh City ), this second effort is a paler achievement. Though his descriptive gifts are still in evidence, the plot becomes an all-too-obvious untying of a highly improbable knot.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

An earthquake that 23-year-old Louis Holland doesn't even feel shakes the Boston area and sets in motion a chain of events in this multilayered, metaphor-studded novel with a love story at its core. After Louis's step-grandmother is the quake's only fatality, his mother inherits millions in stock of chemical company Sweeting-Aldren, and Louis meets seismologist Renee Seitchek, who shares her bed and her theory with him. When tremors continue in the Northeast, scientists study fault lines, a fundamentalist anti-abortion minister credits God's wrath, and Renee suggests "induced seismicity" from Sweeting-Aldren's longtime secret pumping of industrial wastes into a deep well. Franzen ( The Twenty-Seventh City , LJ 11/1/88) may push an occasional metaphor too far, but distractions fade in the face of fine characterizations in a context of science grounded in history with well-integrated social messages and a subtext of the Boston Red Sox breaking fans' hearts. Impressive.
- Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (September 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242051X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312420512
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Franzen is the author of five novels--Purity, Freedom, The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City, and Strong Motion--and five works of nonfiction and translation, including Farther Away, How to Be Alone, and The Discomfort Zone, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the German Akademie der Kunste, and the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Brooks Williams on December 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
I just finished this book yesterday and I must say that it's going on my top ten favorite books list.
I picked up Strong Motion because I'd heard about Jonathan Franzen through some fans of David Foster Wallace. I was not dissapointed. I'll skip the plot synopsis, since I've noticed that it has been done already, but I'll tell you what I loved about the book.
Scenery. The book is set in Massachusetts -- mostly in Boston and its surrounding areas. I grew up just south of Boston, so the territory was familiar to me. Franzen really made me feel like I was back in that city, walking its streets, taking the train around. Many authors can write about being in the city, but few can really capture the feeling of a specific city like Franzen does for Boston. I really like that.
Characters. Franzen creates some of the most memorable character I've ever read. Not for their quirkiness (a la Dickens) but more in the way that it is easy to see yourself in them. In Strong Motion, I was able to see some of my own qualities in both Louis and Rene and it gives the book a kind of intimacy.
Details. There is a lot of detail in Strong Motion. I learned a lot about earthquakes and chemicals while reading the book. Franzen's skill, however, is integrating the technical details with the storyline, making the two fit together seamlessly. I never thought "ok, here we go with more technical stuff...".
I really loved this book and I'd suggest it to anyone who enjoyed Franzen's The Corrections (which I also loved) or even David Foster Wallace, Don Delillo or Paula Fox. I found myself very involved in the story (which hits on abortions, earthquakes, sex, love, family, religious zeal and more). Do yourself a favor and read this book.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By F. T. Litz on June 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
I picked up Strong Motion after enjoying Franzen's The Corrections. The story lines in this novel are more complexly layered than those in The Corrections, but also more tightly organized. Most notably, in stark contrast to The Corrections, Franzen does not send us off to the Baltics to experience needless side stories. Every overlapping and interwoven piece of text is important to the rest of the novel.
Brief decriptions of the plot do not do the book justice, because they come off as unbelievable, even gimmicky. While Franzen does take bold risks with this story and his characters, this novel is so well crafted that I did not even pause to consider whether a particular plot twist was plausible. Like all good fiction, the unreal becomes real as the story unfolds.
With rich, conflicted characters and smart, penetrating observations of American society, Franzen's Strong Motion is a master work. It is easy to see why there was such a buzz around the release of The Corrections: Franzen is one of the best contemporary American literary fiction has to offer.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Smith on June 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I read Strong Motion after reading Franzen's excellent The Corrections, a much more complete novel that is superior to this one in almost every aspect. That said, there is a lot to like in Strong Motion.
Louis Holland is a complex and well defined character; he's not completely likeable, but the reader ends up caring about him despite his shortcomings. His introspectiveness perpetuates his isolation and strains his relationships with those around him - his parents, sister, and romantic interests. The one person that he does make an effort to extend himself to rejects him so completely that he sleepwalks though the one subsequent relationship that might have had the potential to have made him happy.
The plot is based on some premises that I found a bit difficult to swallow (large-scale seismic activity prompted by pumping waste into deepwater wells?), but if you can suspend your disbelief in the concept of a big evil corporation trying to cut costs and inadvertently moving around tectonic plates then the plot does a nice job in steering big business, academia, and religious fundamentalists on a collision course.
The novel often feels quite experimental. At one point we're looking at the world from the vantage point of a solitary raccoon, whose superior intelligence doesn't quite make up for the fact that he doesn't move in a pack like other night creatures - dogs and rats (the raccoon might mirror the man-in-isolation Louis Holland character). At another point we look through the eyes of a computer program. Emotions fly as earthquakes toss characters around. All of this is interesting and masterfully written, but some of it ends up being fairly extraneous to the heart of the novel.
This is an ambitious, structurally messy novel - but with flashes of brilliance. I could have just as easily given it four stars. Recommended.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
I don't think I've ever read a novel where my opinions of the characters changed so much in the course of the book. That's a good sign - no one in this story is one-dimensional. Franzen has no problem with digression, which provides some of the strength of characterization. His people will take a page or two at any time to go on about things that are really important to them (nostalgia for punk and new wave music, for example, or how it feels to want to buy clothes that you see worn by the kind of people you can't stand.) Even the least important characters get filled in. His plotting is, in the end, a bit weaker, but still serves. Highly recommended - and just where are the novels since this one?
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