The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

A day in the life of a family at a crossroads in 1971

Noel Grima Tuesday, 18 January 2022, 09:53 Last update: about 5 months ago

‘Crossroads’. Author: Jonathan Franzen. Publisher: 4th Estate, London / 2021. Pages: 580pp

The author is a well known American novelist and essayist. He was born in Illinois, the son of an immigrant from Sweden and a mother from Eastern Europe.

His 2001 novel, The Corrections, a satirical family drama, was acclaimed when it was published and earned the author a National Book Award. The book was also a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist and earned a James Tait Black Memorial Prize apart from being shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.

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The novel Freedom (2010) led to the author featuring on the cover of Time magazine and the author being described as a "great American novelist".

The book being reviewed, Crossroads, is the first in a projected trilogy and was published in 2021.

Crossroads tells a story of one day in the life of one family. It is 23 December 1971 and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago.

The father, Russ Hildebrand, associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless.

His wife, Marion, has her own secret life and is herself planning to leave her husband.

The couple's eldest son, Clem, has his reasons for breaking up with his family. Clem, who's gone off to college, is returning with news (he's volunteered to fight in Vietnam) that will gravely wound his pacifist father. 

Clem's sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high school class, has suddenly embraced the counterculture of the time.

The youngest son, Perry, has been selling drugs to children at school. But he has now resolved to be a better person.

Each of the Hildebrands seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens.

There is much more than this skimpy resume. The book delves into Russ' and Marion's long forgotten past. The evolution of the crisis between them and also what happens to each of their three children has to be understood against the background of the world events that were happening then and also against the background of what was going on inside the suburban parish of the Pentecostal church in an affluent part of Chicago. 


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