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Purity: A Novel Hardcover – September 1, 2015
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The Amazon Book Review
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An Amazon Best Book of September 2015: Purity takes many forms in Franzen’s new novel—to begin with, it is the name of the book’s title character. “Pip,” as she is more commonly known, is not fond of her given name, and when we first meet her she is living in a crowded Oakland house under the burden of colossal college debt. Pip soon becomes involved in “The Sunlight Project,” a WikiLeaks-style group that seeks to uncover secrets and expose them on the web. Run by Andreas Wolf, a charismatic man of renown, who grew up in socialist East Germany, the Sunlight Project becomes the jumping-off point of discovery for Pip, as well as a starting line for Franzen to jump back in time and explore the backgrounds of his primary and secondary characters. There is a point in the book where readers may wonder where this is all headed; but the thoughtfulness and polish of Franzen’s prose should reassure that the journey isn’t in vain. It eventually becomes clear that nearly every character is chasing purity in some form—whether pursuing Pip herself or some platonic ideal—and Franzen ties up the ends in a way that is clean and satisfying but will have you thinking about Purity long after you have finished the book. --Chris Schluep
From School Library Journal
At 23, Pip is trying to pay off her enormous student loan by working at a glorified call center job. She's so poor that she stays with other squatters in a dilapidated house in Oakland, CA—so maybe Pip can be forgiven for coming across a tiny bit hostile. Unfortunately, she has developed the qualities of an emotional leech, constantly seeking approval from father figures in a pathetic attempt to fill the void left by her own unidentified father. Then two Germans show up at her house, and Pip becomes part of a decades-old tangle of stories that link her mother to her father and to the enigmatic Andreas Wolf, an East German expat with a terrifying interior life. The individual tales are epic, nonlinear chronicles that brush up against one another, leaving tantalizing traces of what remains untold. Pip's mother is a mysterious personality despite her overbearing possessiveness. And Wolf has an obsession with a journalist named Tom Aberant. All of these people are vitally connected to Pip, whose youthful mix of intelligence, cynicism, and desperate yearning will hook teens. Readers with an interest in history, politics, and the implications of social media will enjoy the characters' intellectual discourse. Recommend this extraordinary novel to teens ready for a complex yet engaging read that delivers international events and trends with the same insight as the best nonfiction but is peopled with figures who will be impossible to forget. VERDICT An exceptional introduction to fine literature for mature teen readers.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN
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The final chapters resolve all but it is just too tidy (suicide eliminates one problem) and not always easy to accept as credible: Purity's mother, intractable and resolute in rejecting a material existence throughout her entire adult life is suddenly seduced by the idea of shopping for clothes? Purity finds a new relationships and a romantic interest too, complete with a lovable dog. It is almost a happily ever after ending.
If you can deal with some of Franzen's longwinded psychological pondering, and want to follow the looping trail from California, to East Germany and Bolivia and back again and enjoy a 'big' book you'll probably like it.
I actually really liked Pip and her willingness to go against the popular grain. I found myself rooting for her. However, one of my major complaints is that I felt that the author brought in many of the female characters simply to use them as constructs to achieve plot goals. Contrary to thinking this was a feminist screed, I felt the exact opposite. I wanted to know more about Annabel. (Full disclosure- I was a Penn undergraduate just a bit before Tom's presumed tenure there ) At the end of the day, her character just didn't hold together for me, ditto Tom's wife, and Annagret, and the 2nd in command at the compound. They all came and went without a second glance. Andreas' mother was the lone exception. I knew her. I wondered why many of the extraneous characters were even in the book in the first place.
The more fleshed out characters were all rather messy and contradictory folks. But hey, isn't that realistic enough?So coming back to my original thought that his editor was extremely angry with him, my main complaints were that none of the vignettes ever felt particularly properly finished. People, places and times just drifted in and out of the book. And what's with Tom's endless soliloquy? Do we really care? What point is being made? I didn't get it and found it to be just more frustration. And btw, how does a woman get pregnant or.... ? So wish me luck-- this was my choice for our November book club meeting. And from what I'm hearing, I'll be taking a great deal of heat. Gulp.
The characters were all unredeemably awful -- except maybe for Tom (Franzen alter ego?) and Leila. The obsession with sex and the truly icky encounters between Andreas and Pip were beyond gratuitous. What was the point? To show the great man brought to heel by a slip of a girl? To give Pip her time as a "popular" girl? For me, the scenes in South America were the most unpleasant in the entire book.
The shifts in time and place were distracting, although to some extent, I thought Franzen succeeded in unraveling lives in an original way that mirrored real life far more than fiction. It was interesting to get a view of a character at one point in time and then go backwards to see his/her origins and then return to the present or near future. A worthy experiment, although I can see why many readers were put off by the choppiness of the story-telling.
The biggest flaw for me was Anabel, who is really central to the entire story and whom I never understood -- either as an actual human being or as some kind of emblem for our times (or rather, if she was an emblem it was way too over the top). I found it impossible to reconcile the woman she seemed to be in her "early years" to her demeanor as Pip's mother. Yes, she was a true wacko throughout (and how is it no one could get her any help?), but it was as though she'd undergone a complete personality change between her years with Tom and her years with Pip. And what are we supposed to take away from a character who is so awful? Certainly not that going off the grid is a good thing. Or that mental illness can be a form of "greatness." If she's supposed to occupy the moral high ground, I can't see it. She has to be the most self-absorbed, self-righteous, whiny, selfish and irritating character I've encountered. Even her wish to have a child is pure self-indulgence and the fact that Pip sometimes seems healthy and normal is presumably due to happenstance or her father's genetic contribution. And what does the end tell us: that Anabel and Tom can't move forward, but Pip, their "creation" can??
So in the end, readable, yes. Requiring some thought, definitely. Worth the time required, maybe. But a genuinely great serious novel, not this time.