I have read all of Jonathan Franzen’s books. I am as passionate about his work as he is about birds. And if you have ever read/watched an interview with him you are already thinking, “whoa, she loves him too much.” Purity (2016) is his fifth fiction book and it’s another hefty one at 562 pages.
Purity tells the story of Pip Tyler and how she ends up working for a company called The Sunlight Project while in search of her unknown father. This is where she meets Andreas Wolfe (a Julian Assange-type). The book details his life in East Germany and how he started the Sunlight Project (a wikileaks-type website) once the Berlin wall came down.
The other two main characters are Leila Helou and Tom Aberrant. Leila is definitely the most interesting to me. Her storyline focuses on how she balances her simultaneous relationship with Tom, the founder of the online newspaper she works for, and her now-paraplegic husband. Both of them know about each other, so it’s not so much an infidelity story as it is a "hyper fidelity" one … FYI I'm a Patty sympathizer (from Freedom). Tom’s storyline reveals how he got the $20 million to start the online newspaper and what happened with his first wife Anabel.
Most of Franzen’s books do span over a few generations, but I found Purity particularly interesting for how all of the characters eventually coincide. I would also say it is one of my favourite Franzen endings. The only reason I am not 100% on this is because The Twenty-Seventh City has a very disturbing ending that would play really well on film. ANYWAYS … the ending is almost comedic? This a spoiler free blog so just read it and enjoy it.
I asked my parents to PVR Late Night With Seth Myers a few weeks ago because Franzen was coming on to talk about the 20-episode Showtime series coming out based on the book (it will star Daniel Craig as Andreas). This is great news to me as a few years ago I had a meltdown (which can be found in the depths of my twitter account) when I learned that the HBO miniseries for The Corrections had been cancelled before they ever started filming. What was interesting about the interview was that Franzen talked a little bit about the process of creating such a widespread, yet intersecting, storyline. Purity spans across continents and decades but all of the characters are connected. Franzen admitted that he doesn’t use story boards, but instead has these vague ideas of where characters will be (e.g. East Germany, California, South America) and then takes it as a “literary challenge” to write in plot that eventually connects them all.
A favourite passage? Here’s one:
We’d been little more than children when we fell in love. Now everything was ashes, ashes of ashes burned at temperatures where ash burns, but our full-fledged sex life had only just begun, and I would never stop loving her. It was the prospect of another two or three or five years of sex in the ashes that made me think of death. When she pulled away from me and dropped to her knees and unzipped my knapsack and took out my Swiss Army knife, I thought she might be thinking it, too. But instead she was stabbing the five remaining condoms dead.
Overall, this was a really good read. It is probably one of Franzen’s most accessible books. The worst part is realizing you have to wait another ~5 years for something new from him..