Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen. JFranz. The Fran-Fran Man. Some people love to hate him. Others hate to love him. After reading his latest, Purity, I’m in the hate to love him camp. At worst his misogynistic, at best simply sexist, but his prose – the way he can string a sentence together – is bliss.

On so many levels Purity is a great book. I loved the structure, the way things come together. And as I’ve said, for me, Franzen truly knows how to craft a sentence. His vocabulary is astounding in a way that i really appreciate.

But there was so much about Purity that made me feel creepy. Franzen’s women are garbage. Not one really great female character. I get that sometimes characters have to be weak, flawed, needy, abused … you get the idea. But does that have to absolutely define all the female characters and none of the male? And let’s not forget his use of the word “pussy”. Too much. TOO MUCH.

Who would like this book? You pretty much already know if you’re going to read Purity or not, based on whether you’d read Franzen or not. I really liked The Corrections and loved Freedom, but Purity, while good, fell short for me. It definitely reads like Franzen and is easily identifiable as him, but either I’ve grown up or he’s become too Franzen-y. I’m left wondering whether or not I’ll pick up his next novel. Am I done with Franzen?

I’d like to thank Laura at Reading In Bed, the brains behind Franzen in February,  for prompting me to read Purity. Finished just in time, and i knocked off another for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.



  1. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll read this! I own it but was engrossed in something else (A Little Life, I think) when Purity was released, so didn’t get straight onto it. By the time my reading time was free, I’d read a number of ordinary reviews from some trusted bloggers. So, now I’m kind of thinking no….

  2. I read The Corrections a few years ago, but remember nothing about it. I only know that I read it, because i have it written in my notebook. So that’s not a good sign. It doesn’t mean I’ll never read him again (I think I might have Freedom on my shelves somewhere, too), but I’m not in a hurry to read more of his books. Too many other books to read! And, your review confirms my hesitation to pick this one up.

  3. I’ve read some posts about Franzen as a person, but I still didn’t really have a grasp on the problems people had with him. After reading your review, I think you can put me solidly in the won’t read Franzen camp. I’m so tired of terrible representations of women in pop culture. I’m not going to seek out a book where that problem is so prevalent.

  4. Pingback: Why We Came To The City by Kristopher Jansma | 52 books or bust

  5. So many people seem to love his writing, and I’m so tempted to read one of his books…. but as a person he really annoys me. It’s one of those situations where I don’t think I can separate the author from his books, especially with what you’ve said here about his depiction of women.

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