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The Twenty-Seventh City: A Novel (Bestselling Backlist) Paperback – September 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Highly gifted first novelist Franzen has devised for himself an arduous proving ground in this ambitious, grand-scale thriller. Literate, sophisticated, funny, fast-paced, it's a virtuoso performance that does not quite succeed, but it will keep readers engrossed nonetheless. Bombay police commissioner S. Jammu, a member of a revolutionary cell of hazy but violent persuasion, contrives to become police chief of St. Louis. In a matter of months, she is the most powerful political force in the metropolis. Her ostensible agenda is the revival of St. Louis (once the nation's fourth-ranked city and now its 27th) through the reunification of its depressed inner city and affluent suburban country. But this is merely a front for a scheme to make a killing in real estate on behalf of her millionaire mother, a Bombay slumlord. Jammu identifies 12 influential men whose compliance is vital to achieving her ends and concentrates all the means at her disposal toward securing their cooperation. Eventually, the force of Jammu's will focuses on Martin Probst, one of St. Louis's most prominent citizens, and their fates become intertwined. Franzen is an accomplished stylist whose flexible, muscular, often sardonic prose seems spot-on in its rendition of dialogue, internal monologue and observation of the everyday minutiae of American manners. His imagination is prodigious, his scope sweeping; but in the end, he loses control of his material. Introducing an initially confusing superabundance of characters, he then allows some of them to fade out completely and others to become flat. The result is that, despite deft intercutting and some surprising twists at the end, the reader is not wholly satisfied. Any potential for greater resonance is left undeveloped, and this densely written work ends up as merely a bravura exercise. 40,000 copy first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; BOMC and QPBC selections.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In the late 1980s, the city of St. Louis appoints as police chief an enigmatic young Indian woman named Jammu. Unbeknownst to her supporters, she is a dedicated terrorist. Standing alone against her is Martin Probst, builder of the famous Golden Arch of St. Louis. Jammu attempts first to isolate him, then seduce him to her side. This is a quirky novel, composed of wildly disparate elements. Franzen weaves graceful, affecting descriptions of the daily lives of the Probsts around a grotesque melodrama. The descriptive portions are almost lyrical, narrated in a minimalist prose, which contrasts well with the grand style of the melodramatic sections. The blend ultimately palls, however , and the murky plot grows murkier. Franzen takes many risks in his first novel; many, not all, work. Recommended. David Keymer, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Utica
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Bestselling Backlist
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Trade Paperback Edition edition (September 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312420145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312420147
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,046,033 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

41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
This was one of those books that kept me up at night. The story was very involving and Franzen's technique of alternating narrative perspectives among a large cast drew me on. I would look at the first line of the next chapter or sub-asterisk and feel compelled to find out what was going on with that character.
I live in a city that is smaller than St. Louis, but the social stratication, economic segregation, and political altercations were all quite familiar. I was not particularly surprised to read the disbelieving reaction of a reviewer from St. Louis ("this is not my town!"). Franzen pre-zinged her by building up to an election that no one apparently cared about. You spend first 7/8 of the book being led to believe that the whole city is in an uproar about the "reign" of S. Jammu, only to have the election show that the county/city consolidation issue was only of interest to the players and to the media who were hyping it. No one else was paying any attention.
This is a wickedly funny book, both in the way it deploys broad comic themes like the one above and also in little zingers aimed at various social groups. Franzen aims most of his barbs at what is presumably his own social milieu: the white suburban uppermiddle to upper class. But he has some left over for the black middle class and Indian socialists.
As has been stated by other reviewers, Franzen is primarily a story teller and secondarily a stylist. There are, however, similarities between this book and D.F. Wallace's Infinite Jest. One obvious similarity is the epic scope. Another is the multi-personal narrative. The scathingly critical and borderline cynical perspective on politics. The recurrent dwelling upon the details of substance abuse (although Wallace is much more obsessive).
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
I must say that I am very surprised by the several lackluster reviews this book received here, which is why I am anxious to add my own glowing endorsement. THE TWENTY-SEVENTH CITY is one of the most incisive and visionary novels about the strata of American society published in the past 15 years. It brings to life the economic, political, racial, and personal forces behind urban reform more vividly, and humorously, than any other contemporary fiction of which I know. Its investigations of gentrification in St. Louis, and of the incessant struggles and backstabbing between the city's power elite, seem to become more timely and topical with each passing day, at least if the present courses of so many American cities (including my own) are any indication. The fact that Franzen wrote the book in the Eighties, and that he centers its events on a wicked satire of nearly implausible foreign conspiracy and much-too-real American paranoia, only add to my admiration of it.
As for Franzen's writing, I want to say that I don't think his style is any less 'brilliant' than that of his contemporaries; he just isn't compelled to suspend the novel's progress and tap us on the shoulder every time he is about to perform a stylistic trick. That is not to say that the tricks aren't still there. So much the better for the astute reader anyway, because here you will find consistently strong, funny, and surprising writing that advances the book's story and characters throughout. It's a read that amazingly satisfies our desires for entertainment and intellectual stimulation simultaneously.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By LK on July 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was interested in this book because of the uncommon setting of St. Louis--a city I love, but one that is definitely falling apart. That decay is beautifully described by Franzen. There's no doubt that the prose in 'The Twenty-Seventh City' nearly always sparkles and only occasionally falls flat, usually when he gets too caught up in his philosophical meanderings inside the head of Martin Probst (who is quietly and slowly lovable). There are so many artful descriptions and astute retellings of every-day occurrences to propel readers. Unfortunately, the interesting premise never expands much beyond its setup in the first 50 pages. S. Jammu and her comrades are interesting, but haughty, and their reasons for taking on their twisted plot are never clarified beyond vague sketches of their activist and corrupted pasts. EVERYone in high society, apparently, enters into either physical or intellectual affairs, which often defy their characterisations, and there are so many characters that are highlighted in their dull everyday routines just to service their importance in the book's ending that it drags down the beginning in middle. And when the climax of a 500-page novel hinges on the outcome of a referendum vote... well, I think that's all that needs to be said about that.
Still, Franzen's observations on our every day lives and interactions are shocking in their familiarity, and he undeniably has a good grip on many facets of how our society and culture functions. Twenty years after the fact his comments are still relevant. 'The Twenty-Seventh City' is worth reading, but only if read quickly; labouring over it and its blunted intricacies is not worth the time.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Swanson on September 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
I can't say enough good things about "The Corrections." Because of that, I had really high hopes for "The Twenty-Seventh City." I couldn't have been more disappointed in a book.

Complicated, ambitious characters and plot-lines and themes don't scare me; I prefer those types of stories. But I could not follow this thing at all. Many times, I found my mind wandering on other exciting subjects such as what I'm gonna cook for dinner or when am I gonna sort the socks.

S Jammu was a corrupt person with an agenda and that was the only thing that was obvious. The other sub-plots and characters had no connection as far as I could tell. The business themes and story lines were boring for me. The in-depth descriptions of the real estate business held nothing of interest.

I give this book two stars because in Franzen style the descriptions were outstanding.

I wouldn't tell anyone NOT to read this book. I just didn't happen to get it. I do think there are plenty of people out there who would have an appreciation for this bizarre story.
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