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Reviews of Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen


A Key to All Mythologies #1

by Jonathan Franzen

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen X
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 592 pages

    Oct 2022, 592 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Jonathan Franzen's gift for wedding depth and vividness of character with breadth of social vision has never been more dazzlingly evident than in Crossroads.

It's December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless―unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem's sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who's been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.

Jonathan Franzen's novels are celebrated for their unforgettably vivid characters and for their keen-eyed take on contemporary America. Now, in Crossroads, Franzen ventures back into the past and explores the history of two generations. With characteristic humor and complexity, and with even greater warmth, he conjures a world that resonates powerfully with our own.

A tour de force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense, its action largely unfolding on a single winter day, Crossroads is the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis. Jonathan Franzen's gift for melding the small picture and the big picture has never been more dazzlingly evident.


The sky broken by the bare oaks and elms of New Prospect was full of moist promise, a pair of frontal systems grayly colluding to deliver a white Christmas, when Russ Hildebrandt made his morning rounds among the homes of bedridden and senile parishioners in his Plymouth Fury wagon. A certain person, Mrs. Frances Cottrell, a member of the church, had volunteered to help him bring toys and canned goods to the Community of God that afternoon, and though he knew that only as her pastor did he have a right to rejoice in her act of free will, he couldn't have asked for a better Christmas present than four hours alone with her.

After Russ's humiliation, three years earlier, the church's senior minister, Dwight Haefle, had upped the associate minister's share of pastoral visitations. What exactly Dwight was doing with the time Russ saved him, besides taking more frequent vacations and working on his long-awaited volume of lyric poetry, wasn't clear to Russ. But he appreciated his ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. The Hildebrandts share a complicated bond of compassion and conflict, honesty and infidelity. Consider their family dynamic. In what ways are the Hildebrandts good toward one another? In what ways are they deceitful or manipulative? If you had to identify a crucial hitch—or "barrier" (page 26), as Rick Ambrose might call it—that hinders their relationship, what would it be?
  2. When we first meet Russ Hildebrandt, he's a pastor "starved in spirit" (page 17) who's desperate for a change in his professional, personal, and spiritual life. Discuss Russ's outlook at the beginning of Crossroads. Do you think he sees himself as a martyr of forces beyond his control or a victim of his own misdeeds? What are Russ's solutions for ...

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BookBrowse Review


Each Hildebrandt is delightfully multi-layered, but Russ and Marion in particular are incredibly complex creations. Following Marion's journey over the course of the book is a joy — perhaps the highlight. I thoroughly enjoyed Crossroads start to finish, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a beautifully written, character-driven trip back in time. Its themes and discussions of faith make it an excellent choice for book groups...continued

Full Review (837 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Crossroads is Franzen's greatest and most perfect novel to date, but more importantly, it is his most promising: an inexhaustible resource for future novels, and not only his own.

San Francisco Chronicle
Absolutely engrossing ... There's not a scenario in [Crossroads] that doesn't ring true.

The New York Times Book Review
A mellow, marzipan-hued '70s-era heartbreaker. Crossroads is warmer than anything [Franzen has] yet written, wider in its human sympathies, weightier of image and intellect ... The action in Crossroads flows and ebbs toward several tour-de-force scenes.

The Washington Post
Thank God for Jonathan Franzen ... With its dazzling style and tireless attention to the machinations of a single family, Crossroads is distinctly Franzen-esque, but it represents a marked evolution ... It's an electrifying examination of the irreducible complexities of an ethical life.

Excellent ... With Marion, [Franzen] reminds us that he's actually one of our great novelists of female fury ... Jonathan Franzen really is one of the great novelists of his generation. Crossroads stands ready and willing to prove it.

Booklist (starred review)
This masterpiece of social realism vividly captures each character's internal conflicts as a response to and a reflection of societal expectations, while Franzen expertly explores the fissions of domestic life, mining the rich mineral beneath the sediments of familial discord. In this first volume of a promised trilogy, Franzen is in rarified peak form.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Franzen's intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite.

Library Journal (starred review)
Franzen pens complex, densely layered characters ... with America's heartland functioning as a stage upon which the tension between enduring values and societal change is enacted ... Franzen is keenly aware that human struggle is defined by understanding and acceptance and that it is generational, ideas he admirably captures here.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Franzen returns with a sweeping and masterly examination of the shifting culture of early 1970s America...[he] exhibits his remarkable ability to build suspense through fraught interpersonal dynamics. It's irresistible.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Vietnam War Draft Lottery

A man in a suit turns the crank on a glass lottery machine holding the capsules containing birthdays for the Vietnam War draftOne of the ethical debates presented in Jonathan Frazen's Crossroads concerns the United States' use of the draft to supplement its troops during the Vietnam War.

Conscription, commonly known as the draft in the United States, is a term of mandatory enlistment in national service, generally in a country's military. It's been employed in one form or another for millennia, with its first documented use going back to a system known as ilkum employed by the ancient Babylonians. Nearly every civilization that's had its own military force has had some sort of conscription in place for times of war.

In the United States, several attempts were made to create a conscription program, but none succeeded until 1863. As the Union Army entered the ...

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