What We’re Reading: Purity

Title: Purity
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Genre: fiction

Why did you choose to read this book?

I first read Franzen a few years ago. His book The Corrections received a lot of praise when it came out around 2000 and since. It’s a fantastic novel! I also loved his book Freedom. Though Purity received some mixed reviews, I thought it was worth a try.

Purity is Pip Tyler’s real name. Pip, a 20-something woman with $130,000 in student debt and a job she doesn’t enjoy, is the central character. She doesn’t know who her father is and her reclusive mother won’t tell her. She finds herself working a paid internship for The Sunlight Project, which is similar to Wikileaks, in that it purports to expose corruption across the globe.

In addition to the tale of Pip’s search for her father, marriages fall apart, conspiracies are uncovered and a murder is covered up. There is also the question of what is to be done with billions of dollars.

What did you like about it?

It has a pretty good story and many deeply-flawed characters who are well fleshed out. At times I found their flaws irritating, but Franzen’s writing rewarded my patience: knowing the characters so intimately shed light on their relationships to one another.

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

The way Franzen incorporates communication technology into the storyline reminds me of The Corrections. The dot-com bubble features prominently in that story; social media and texting are integral to Purity.

Was there anything noteworthy about the book?

Well, it was an Amazon Best Book of September 2015, for what it’s worth.

What feeling did the book leave you with?

This was my least favorite of Franzen’s novels I’ve read. It’s not that reading it was a waste of time, but there were parts I enjoyed and parts I didn’t, both with respect to the characters and the story itself. Maybe it’s time to read something different. Mix it up a little.

What would you pair this book with?

Maybe a winter trip to the former East Germany. It would be interesting to compare and contrast Franzen’s portrayal of East Berlin in the late ‘80s with today.

About Stephen Brooks

Stephen is a reference librarian at Durham Tech. He has blogged previously at acqweb.org and for American Libraries magazine online. He enjoys reading 20th and 21st century literature, biographies and books about sports.