Purity: A Novel

by Jonathan Franzen

Hardcover, 2015

Call number




Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2015), Edition: First Edition, 576 pages


"A magnum opus for our morally complex times from the author of Freedom Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother--her only family--is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life. Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world--including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong. Purity is a dark-hued comedy of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has created yet another cast of vividly original characters, Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers, and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Jonathan Franzen is a major author of our time, and Purity is his edgiest and most searching book yet"--… (more)

Library's review

This is the latest from Franzen and, although I still haven’t read his breakout “The Corrections,” he is quickly becoming one of my favorites. This novel is densely woven with its central characters developed back and forth in time and cleverly brought together in the complex set of
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relationships that define and interconnect them. The title, “Purity,” refers to the central character (who goes by the nickname “Pip”—Great Expectations allusion intended), but also hints at the larger goal towards which most of the characters strive in very different fashions. One of the most interesting aspects of Franzen’s style is that it allows us to go through shifts in our reactions to and senses of the characters—moving from bemusement, to dislike, to appreciation, to disappointment, to acceptance—as we see them from different points of view and different times in their lives. It’s all done in omniscient third person, but at times feels like we’re hearing from different first person POVs. The narrative itself is captivating: struggling artists, journalists, hacktivists (think Snowden and Assange), an heiress to a major food corporation who refuses her inheritance for political (and personal—of course, the personal is political, just make sure you look at that through the right end of the telescope: thanks to Kristian Williams for that brilliant insight in the most recent volume of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, p. 133) reasons, a child (Purity) who discovers her father’s identity at age 25, at the end of a hacktivist operation against the wishes of her mother (the rebel heiress). Oh, I could go on, but you’re already starting to roll your eyes. Unroll and have a read. It’s more than worth your time I reckon.
(Brian Lynch)
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User reviews

LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Loved The Corrections, liked Freedom less, was really looking forward to reading his latest and found it a TERRIBLE book. Only finished it because a good friend has just published a literary biography of Franzen.

Self indulgent. Bad writing. Bad editing. Boring plot. Cardboard despicable
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characters. And way too long.

Oh, and how could I forget: every time I read about another "stiffy" I wanted to throw the book across the room. But it was too heavy.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
I have read all of Franzen's fiction so I looked forward to this book. I was predisposed to like this because of my previous Franzen experience. This book has gotten a lot of mixed reviews. The negative reviews seem more about Franzen's personality and place in our current culture instead of about
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the book itself. It is 565 pages but the plot that surrounds 5 main characters who ultimately link touches on so many cultural issues that it is hard to describe. It involves East Germany, a search for a parent, the world of the internet and its' influence on our culture, journalism, and ultimately ties it together in an entertaining way. I rate it up there with both "The Corrections" and "Freedom" so if you have read either of those, then you will like this one. Again, I am a big Franzen fan so I really liked this and did not necessarily have a problem with flawed characters that so many reviewers did. It just made the book more interesting.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
I'm not convinced that this long and weighty book was worth the effort. It is an interesting reflection on how people strive for 'purity'. The conclusion that you can't trust anyone seems to be where Franzen is headed. Several times on the way through I wondered whether such a big chunk of my
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remaining time on earth should be allocated to this work because much of the book seemed to be about Franzen being 'clever' rather than telling a story that's worth reading. When I reached the end of "The Corrections" I looked back and said, 'Yes, that was worth the effort'. With 'Purity', I'm rather less convinced.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
Almost 600 pages of characters I really didn't like or care about. I love Jonathan Franzen. I would read his grocery list. This book was not one of my favorites, but it did not make me admire the writer any less. He is amazing.
LibraryThing member TommyB
This book was a disappointment. It was so disjointed that I ultimately gave up on it, at about 90% done. The title character, a woman, virtually disappears from the book, as the author instead focuses on two men for much of it. And a woman who is the focus of more than 100 pages of the novel
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suddenly and inexplicably is absent from the remainder of the book. And what in the world happened to Franzen as a child? His portrayal of mothers in this novel is a strong argument for cloning over traditional parenthood. There is no question that some of the writing is brilliant, and Franzen's use of language is excellent. But in the end, that simply does not make a good novel out of something that is less than that.
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LibraryThing member Alphawoman
It's like the television shows Survivor and Big Brother, you're not sure which of the characters you like and at first don't like any of them but you can't stop watching. ..
In this case reading.
Invested a long time reading this tome of nearly 600 pages. Glad I Enjoyed it. Some of it rather tedious
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such as the Tom and Anabel section but the Wolf Sections Fascinating.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
After two classics, this novel sees Franzen crash back to Earth among mere mortal writers. Purity has his usual cast of intriguing, unhappy protagonists and some laugh-out-loud insights, but the resolutely old-school author's decision to focus on the world of WikiLeaks leads to a fair few clunky
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passages. The first-person section feels like a lazily rehashed idea from Freedom, and one character's backstory seems like it could have been excised entirely. Nevertheless, I breezed through this happily, for Franzen is like pizza - even when it's bad, it's good.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
Somewhere I have gotten the impression that Franzen is a serious literary novelist. I read his The Corrections 3 Jan 2007 and gave it two stars. I read his Freedom 6 Oct 2010 and because the ending so startled me I gave it four stars. I found Purity the have the same defects that The Corrections
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has--full of immoral people who do stupid things, lots of unnecessary practically pornographic sex scenes, lots of crude four letter word usage. Purity is the name of a girl (no, of course, she makes no effort to live in accordance with her name) who does not know who her father is and her mother is depicted as a loving parent who refuses to tell Purity what Purity wants to know about her father. Then the book goes back to tell about things which happened earlier and we see her mother is a vicious and idiotic person, the daughter of a billionaire. The father insists his daughter shall have his wealth but the daughter prefers to have her daughter, Purity, ( conceived, of course, long after her mother was divorced from Purity's father) live in poverty. Lots of bizarre behavior which no non-fictional character would ever do. I did not conclude the book was worth the time I spent reading it.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Purity, Jonathan Franzen, author; narrators, Dylan Baker, Jenna Lamia, Robert Petkoff
Jonathan Franzen has produced a novel about unlikeable people, each with a peculiar need or dysfunction. The language is foul and the sex is in every conceivable form. It seems to be written not for a literary
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purpose, but for shock purpose. I will say, though, that at the end, I was surprised he was able to knit all of the characters together, in one narrative and then tie up all of the loose ends, connecting all of the threads. It was, at times, tedious and unpleasant to read; I can’t recommend it. The story was sometimes humorous and very creative, but it was a kind of originality that had no redeeming features for me. The subject matter could have been interesting if that was developed rather than the deviant behaviors. The characters were preoccupied with ridiculous romances and projects that seemed totally meaningless. Most of the characters simply wanted to jump into someone's bed, if not literally, than figuratively.
Purity Tyler, 23, known as pussy cat to her mother and Pip to her classmates and friends, was obsessed with learning the identity of her father. She was brought up at or below the poverty line by her mother, Anabel Laird, an emotionally arrested and disturbed woman whom she utterly adored or hated, alternately. Unknown to most who knew her, Annabel was an heiress who had disavowed her extreme wealth along with animal products and had become a Buddhist. She manipulated everyone with her infantile, demanding behavior. The modus operandi of her daughter, Pip, was to entice and then sleep her way through her boyfriends. She did awful things, then lied about them and then apologized for doing them, believing that she would always be forgiven by all, as she had been forgiven by her mother; she seemed to be nothing more than an obsessed, immature young woman who did not often think before she acted. Katya was Annabel’s mother-in-law. She was domineering and most often verbalized whatever was on her mind, making her extremely rude and easy to dislike. Her son Tom adored her, but she was a thorn in Annabel’s back, pretty much for good reason. Their dislike for each other was mutual. When Tom could no longer tolerate Annabel’s behavior, they divorced. Tom remained in love with her and kept her secrets from Pip in an act of loyalty. David Laird, Annabel’s father, was very wealthy and that was his fatal flaw. Annabel hated him for exploiting animals to make his money. He, however, loves Annabel and often seeks reconciliation with her. His enormous wealth has, ironically, made unhappy victims of all of his children. When Annabel’s husband, Tom, accepts money from him to start a magazine to do investigative reporting, she is furious with him. She believes her father controls people with his gifts and cannot understand Tom‘s betrayal. Yet Anabel betrays those who care for her by keeping secrets and not divulging very important, personal information. Another female character is Leila. She is a self-sacrificing woman who is jealous of her lover’s (Tom) ex-wife (Annabel) and still takes care of her disabled husband (Charles), who is kind and was paralyzed in an accident. It was an undeserved cruel act of fate. Tom is jealous of her kindness to Chalres even though he still maintains a relationship with Anabel, on occasion.
Now we get to Annagret, a young, unhappy 15 year old who meets Andreas Wolf when he worked as a counselor at a church she would escape to in order to get away from her stepfather, Horst. She presented herself as the sexually abused victim of Horst. Andreas, almost twice her age, at 27, immediately fell in love with her, and when she expresses her desire to get rid of Horst permanently, Andreas jumps in with a plan. It is intimated that Annagret is sometimes unsure about her own sexuality and is also an accomplished liar. For his part, Andreas is sexually deviant and prefers masturbation and other sexual pleasures to intercourse. He believes he is destined for greatness and eventually becomes a famous personage who brings sunlight to the world by exposing people and events in much the same way as Julian Assange does in the present day. He is worshipped and revered by those who know him. All the females want to take him to bed. To the world, although he is quite insane, he seems quite charming and very successful, using the internet as his tool to inform on others.
As the story develops, Pip becomes involved with Andreas in her search for the identity of her father. A friend tells her that he can surely help and she takes a job as an intern with his company. It is through Andreas that she makes a connection with Tom, working as a kind of undercover agent for his organization, but she soon develops a close relationship with Tom and his lover, Leila and wants to discontinue working for him. Andreas, meanwhile is now in love with Pip, although she is much younger. His relationship with Anigret is over. Most of the time, Pip ends up in love/hate relationships with almost everyone she becomes involved. She often betrays them in one way or another, and afterwards, she is consumed with guilt and remorse. However, she rarely changes her pattern of behavior or matures until she meets Jason, at which time her life turns in another healthier, more positive direction.
Along with constant sexual references of one kind or another, the reader will be submerged in filthy language using the most despicable words to describe women. Many of the characters are introduced early and then explored later on in each successive chapter as the story develops. As a result, often the timeline goes back and forth and it can grow confusing and repetitive. All told, it is a book about socially maladjusted men, spoiled, dysfunctional women, foul language, sexual deviancy in many arenas, the thrill that a disturbed person might feel after committing a murder and the ramifications of the guilt that person carries with them ever after, the internet and social media with its incumbent dangers and benefits to individuals and society, mayhem, immaturity, secrets, lies and denials, suicide and hero worship, socialism and capitalism, politics, self-destruction and ambition, greed and selflessness with a lot of less than stellar characters. It is an examination of the behavior of an odd assortment of damaged characters. If this is your kind of book, have at it.
I read the book until the end because of the reputation of the author, so perhaps I am guilty of an offense some of the female characters were guilty of, hero worship, and like them, I was eventually disappointed. Perhaps, it would have been a better read, absent the overdone sex, filthy language, completely disturbed cast, and the not so subtle expression of the author’s personal politics. The author sent a bit of a mixed message with the extreme left and right positions voiced, although the obvious agenda was largely on the left. The love of money, corrupt governments and politics, the abuse of the environment, and animal rights took the center stage. While it has been referred to by some as a remodeling of Dicken’s “Great Expectations”, I think Dickens might turn over in his grave if he heard that!
I gave it two stars...one for both effort and content and one for reputation. It could have been a more interesting story about the growth of individuals who once lived in fear in a divided Germany, under the ever watchful eye of the Stasi, the brutal Secret Police force in East Germany. It could have catalogued their evolution as they traveled about and away, and developed their futures in places that offered more freedom of choice, like the United States. Instead, it was about victims who continued to carry with them the effect of their former lives, their former fears, the fears they had felt while living in an oppressive environment, society or home, a place that inhibited growth, diversity and success. Their futures and that of their offspring, coupled with the future of all those with whom they dealt, afterwards, would face serious consequences; there would be a price to be paid for their behavior.
The audio was effective although some of the voices ran into each other. Annabel’s sounded like Pip’s which was too young, but perhaps that was because Annabel was immature. I had difficulty discerning the voices of individual characters. The tone and expression sometimes felt overdone, as well, but mostly it was well done. Just beware, though, you, the reader, will be drowned in a sea of dirty words and dysfunctional sexual desire.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
This was a hard one for me to rate. I will start off with the fact that I love Franzen's writing. I know he is a lightning rod, and that he seems like an self-obsessed entitled elitist jackwad in most of his interviews. But...interviews are not a terribly accurate barometer of a person's worth, and
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jackwad or no, this guy writes like a dream. Mozart was no angel, Hemingway was pretty vile, and don't get me started on Michelangelo. Roman Polanski is a pedophile, Kanye West is ... Kanye West and Quentin Tarantino makes art by celebrating all the violence and misdirected twisted sexual longing within his puny soul. Still, these people were and are fantastically talented. I loved Hateful 8, I listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy more than most any other single album, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel remains one of the most thrilling vistas I have ever encountered. Crappy people but brilliant artists. I once met Jennifer Weiner at a bar function in Philly 15+ years back, and she was super nice, really engaging, and I wish her every success, but I still don't much like her books.

My point is that I try to judge the art without judging the artist. With Franzen though, I am not completely able to raise that partition. His work always seems so personal that I find it impossible to not plug the little I know of him into my reading experience. And that is my problem with this book. It could have been great. Not good, I really mean great, breathtaking, enduring. So it pissed me off when all the brilliance got piled under Franzen's obsession with narcissistic mothers, his penis and its level of turgidity at any given time, the evils of the information age, how we are all going to die soon because of our lousy stewardship of the planet, and more about his penis. (Mr. Franzen, if you ever read this, please stop using the word "stiffy.")

So Franzen could have written a great book which incorporated a less Chicken Little approach to the evils of the information age and the looming environmental apocalypse, and which featured a narcissistic parent or 2 (its a Jewish male literary must at this point), and even a passing reference to his penis. Instead he wrote a really good one that left me continually thinking "if only." Still, it was the best book I have read in a long time. In fact it was better than many I gave 5 star ratings. Those books though were the best books they could have been. This book is infested with blatantly unrealized potential. I can't go higher than a 4 and a recommendation that everyone read this and judge for themselves.
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LibraryThing member motorbike
This was a great read, and as I am new to Franzen certainly an encouragement to read more of his work. What it is actually about is not very clear to me. The title suggests purity, but there is little of that in the book. Perhaps it is an ideal people struggle for but never attain.

The story begins
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with twenty-something Purity (Pip) as she struggles to cope with a $130,000 college debt, an uninspiring underpaid job with a dodgy telemarketing company selling "renewal energy" contracts (a job that keeps her in touch with her morals), living in near poverty and having no friends apart from her reclusive mother who won't tell her who her father is, and won't even tell her own real name. After a failed love incident she decides to join the Sunlight Project, an international internet based organisation dedicated to exposing corruption and abuse of power by governments and major corporations, hoping through it she will find her father, and through which she meets the two characters that are the centre of this story.

The two characters, East German anti-Stasi activist turned Assange-like internet warrior Andreas Wolf, and the American independent investigative online newspaper owner Tom Aberant, share a few things in common - they both have been raised in a circle of privilege and are associated with mothers and lovers that are the most obsessive and toxic women you are likely to meet in literature. What is it that makes these capable men love and honour such destructive women? That gets answered in the case of Andreas Wolf but not really with Tom Aberant. Is there any point to life and relationships of the attitudes these women take?

The book also looks at the question of what does one do with your inherited culture - do you reject it or do you work within it for some honourable goal?

After opening the story the character Purity gives way to the male characters, and remains the link between the various people and incidents, and she closes the story. Her character is the opposite to the very intense Andreas and Tom, their mothers and lovers (should the book have been called Sons and Lovers - the Obsessive Generation?) and perhaps serves to underscore that there is no cure for obsession and that the ordinariness of life provides hope to avoid it and rescue you from it.
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LibraryThing member mjlivi
I can't figure out if my Franzen prejudice prevented from liking this or if it's genuinely as frustrating and ridiculous as it seemed to me. The characters are typically awful, but awful in ways that were almost entirely unsympathetic or worse, unbelievable. The women are all dreadful mothers and
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awful wives, the men constantly on the prowl for sex/women to idolise them and the language is weird and uncomfortable (I wish I'd bookmarked the pages that particularly annoyed me, but Pip referring to "her thing", and Andreas obsession with teenage girls were both bits that felt super icky to me).

I mean obviously the dude knows how to write - even in my annoyance I was sucked along towards the end, wanting to find out how and when the various stories would intersect - but there were only the occasional sections where I wasn't actively frustrated with the book, characters or the zeitgeist-y plotting.

I really enjoyed both The Corrections and Freedom, so I'm not sure if my reaction to this is based in my reaction to Franzen's place in pop culture or if the book is really much worse than those earlier ones. Either way, I'm not really counting down until his next masterwork is released.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Pip has been brought up by an eccentric, reclusive mother, who has lied about and concealed her past and the identity of Pip's father. Partly this book is about Pip finding out who she is, but there are other strands (which interconnect pleasingly) about a Wikileaks-like secret-uncoverer, Andreas
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Wolf, and his past in East Berlin before and just after the Wall came down, and Tom Aberant, a journalist for whom Pip goes to work.

Pip was a bit irritating to me to the beginning in a flip, self-destructive way, and she was petulant and dithery in the middle, but by the end she had developed into a calmer, more resolved character. The sections about Andreas and the socialist republic of East Germany were fascinating, although he was the least successful character for me. I appreciated greatly how uninvested he was in the aims of his Sunlight Project and how he fell into his role purely as a side effect of an act of selfish self-preservation. However, his personality never seemed very coherent and the section towards the end where he goes on and on about "the Killer" nearly made me downgrade to 4 stars (was this meant to be evidence of mental ill health? - maybe, but if so, it went on too long.) Otherwise I loved the prose all the way through.

I never understood what Tom found attractive about Anabel (at all - she was unpleasant and "nuts"right from the beginning without let-up) and the story of their marriage was extremely sad. None of the characters told the complete truth or seemed really to aspire to any of the usual virtues and at times it all felt a bit grubby, but I liked the ending and especially Jason and Choco.
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LibraryThing member Orion_Wertz
Very strong character development in this novel. Franzen is shockingly good at creating the inner lives of four different diverse and complex individuals whose lives interlock in fascinating ways. In addition to this character crafting the book has a compelling plot that links up to recent history
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and current events in thoughtful ways.
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LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
There aren't many authors whose newest publications I read automatically without regard to buzz or reviews. Jonathan Franzen is one of the exceptions.
LibraryThing member bartt95
Franzen creates characters so damaged by their past that you almost lose faith in them, yet there's still hope this story. He's such aknowledgeable writer and this is a fantastic book.
LibraryThing member mckall08
I was reading some of the foregoing reviews, admiring those you could give a concise summary of the plot. The only way a film could be made of "Purity" would be as a madcap farce. I'm thinking of TV's "Arrested Development" or, if you go way back, "Soap." Maybe a James Bond movie? If you need a
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character to care about, sorry. But Austin Powers could have a field day with "Purity".
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Purity Tyler, aka Pip, is the daughter of a neurotic woman who refuses to disclose the identity of Pip's father. Pip is interested in her parentage on general grounds and also because she hopes the mystery father might help pay off her massive student debt. She is living in a squatter's house and
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working a succession of bad jobs when she meets Annagret, the neurotic former lover of an infamous German cyber-dissident, Andreas Wolf. She becomes involved in Wolf's Sunshine Project and along the way learns about her family history.

I did not enjoy this book as much as I did The Corrections and Freedom. It's in the same vein - family dynamics and Big Ideas - but the canvass was bigger, the story was busier, and I wasn't always drawn in. The long sections about Andreas Wolf's life in East Germany and his relationship with his neurotic mother didn't engage me as much as the parts of the novel dealing directly with Pip. Odd, because Andreas story is much more dramatic: spies, lies and murder.

Did I mention that all the women in the book are neurotic?
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LibraryThing member chive
I wanted to like this more than I did sadly.
LibraryThing member DougJ110
A wonderful book! It kept my interest during the entire 563 pages.
LibraryThing member kerns222
Some novels scratch but this one claws its way through relationships to reveal most women as clingy damage and men as moral monsters or weak pushovers, or both. When characters entangle in marriage or family, a horror ensues. And you get to read each exchange, each bitter biting hateful slash. They
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seem to survive but you may not—it’s a long grind to the final page.
Franzen says he wants to explore the inner ogre. Watch out. He may take you with him.
But Franzen is a master storyteller—his Germany and Oakland and Ecuador are perfect. He rants on about totalitarian East Germany and its new cousin, the internet. He skewers Wikileaks. He writes a book you will not forget easily.
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LibraryThing member c.archer
Not for everyone, certainly. That said, I'm glad that I read it.
LibraryThing member kazzer2u
A smart contemporary novel that had me laughing out loud more than once. Things may seem a little far fetched but never so far fetched as to be unbelievable. I thought it to be even more enjoyable than 'The Corrections' and 'Freedom'. I enjoyed having contemporary politicians and issues refered to
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within the labyrinthine and intelligent plot
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LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
Franzen frustrates me.

His craftsmanship is top notch. He handles dialogue, character perspective, and pacing expertly. He is among the best novelists writing today.

The topics he explores in this book are all fascinating—the fall of Eastern Germany, Internet information leaks, family mystery. I
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expected to love Purity.

My frustration comes with the character of his characters. They are just plain unlikable. They act with selfish cruelty that leaves me confused about who to cheer for. The anti-hero is so anti, there's nothing redemptive.

Franzen has painted a world I don't want to live in, although the mystery gripped me until the end. One of Purity's final thoughts illustrates the whole:

"It had to be possible to do better than her parents, but she wasn't sure she would" (563).
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LibraryThing member gmmartz
I love Franzens's writing, and the first half of Purity was strong. The last part of the book, though, was tedious. Purity has a very complex story line, but the time-shifting required to develop the characters was too much to handle. I would literally read Franzen's grocery lists if he decides to
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publish them, but Purity was quite a disappointment.
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