Crossroads: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Published : 05 Oct 2021
  • Pages : 592
  • ISBN-10 : 0374181179
  • ISBN-13 : 9780374181178
  • Language : English

Crossroads: A Novel

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.

Editorial Reviews


Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly

"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 . . . Franzen patiently clears space for the slow rise and fall of character, for the chiming of his themes and for a freight of events . . . [but] the character who cracks this novel fully open―she's one of the glorious characters in recent American fiction―is Marion . . . The action in Crossroads flows and ebbs toward several tour-de-force scenes." ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

"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. With his ever-parsing style and his relentless calculation of the fractals of consciousness, Franzen makes a good claim to being the 21st century's Nathaniel Hawthorne." ―Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"Superb . . . As with the best of Franzen's fiction, the characters in Crossroads are held up to the light like complexly cut gems and turned to reveal facet after facet . . . Franzen has created characters of almost uncanny authenticity. Is there anything more a great novelist ought to do?" ―Laura Miller, Slate

"The Corrections was a masterpiece, but Crossroads is [Franzen's] finest novel yet . . . He has arrived at last as an artist whose first language, faced with the society of greed, is not ideological but emotional, and whose emotions, fused with his characters, tend more toward sorrow and compassion than rage and self-contempt..." ―Frank Guan, Bookforum

"A work of total, tantalizing genius. Entombed with big ideas and eccentric characters, Crossroads is a brilliant, excessive, and absorbing novel that instantly feels like Franzen's finest." ―Brady Brickner-Wood, The Chicago Review of Books

"Like a latter-day George Eliot, Franzen can light up large thematic skies but also keep his eye on the sparrow." ―Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review

"Franzen is a master of rendering the broad sweep of humanity through the (extremely human) minutia of a family. In Crossroads, I felt a frustration and fondness for the Hildebrandts so deep it was almost familial. This is, perhaps, [Franzen's] greatest skill as a writer . . . What more could a reader ask for, really?" ―Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub...

Readers Top Reviews

Elyseo da Silva
Great novel. I couldn't put it down until I was finished. Fascinating characters that over the course of the book become more or less likable but for sure more understandable. I highly recommend Crossroads and can't wait for the follow-up to be published!
Great book - very well written characters. The 500+ pages are going fast. Can’t wait for Volumes 2 and 3! I strongly question the one star reviews here; I doubt they read the book. They seem like typical anti-Franzen rants. Weird.
Darcia Helle
Crossroads is a beautifully written story capturing all the complexities of human nature. This is a deep-dive, multiple POV character study that takes its time unfolding. We’re not in a rush to get anywhere because the people are the focus. Jonathan Franzen transported me straight back to 1971, where I felt the turbulent generational divide alongside the personal struggles with religion, drugs, and identity. Mental health is a major undercurrent here, and it’s handled with honesty and respect. Truly a powerful look at a family in crisis, and all the ways in which we misunderstand or simply don’t see one another. Crossroads is the first book in A Key to All Mythologies trilogy, which will span three generations. *I received an ARC from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.*
g3 from the UP
In this novel, Franzen gives us a family of 6 who live in suburban Chicago around 1970. They are beset by the secrets each keeps from the others, the increasing availability and temptations of illegal drugs, the loosening of sexual norms, the changing roles of women, and their respective struggles with faith and how to best live their beliefs. I read this book in one sitting and now find myself wondering when and where Franzen will situate Volume Two, as I imagine various life paths for each character. Having come of age in the same suburbs around 1970, I feel Franzen masterfully captured that time and place. Five stars for sure.
Aran Joseph Canes
This first line of Anna Karenina could easily serve as the epigraph of Crossroads. In some ways it is a Tolstoyean novel: a large sweep of characters, all connected in some ways to the central nuclear family of the Hildebrandts. The Hildebrandts appear to be a typical Midwestern parson’s family but, as always, appearances can deceive. The Hildebrandts are unhappy primarily because they’ve adopted the me generation’s supremacy of the ego. While not denying its positive aspects—an emphasis on personal growth for example—Franzen uses an adept pen to portray the hell the various characters create for each other in their pursuit of personal fulfillment. Franzen also notices how American religion has changed from a strict moral code to a therapeutic mentality. The patriarch of the family, though readers will discover he really doesn’t deserve the term, struggles with his ministry, his marriage…in short, with practically everything. His wife feels unloved and unappreciated while the kids are experimenting with drugs and other less desirable aspects of hippie culture. While avoiding theology, Crossroads, perhaps inspired by Tolstoy, does seem to insist on the importance of a focal point of love in one’s heart as the only way of resolving the crises brought on by the culture of me. The narrative itself may be Franzen’s finest in creating realistic and sympathetic characters. The storylines are believable, the dialogue stimulating…while not humorous like some of his earlier novels it’s obvious that Franzen hasn’t lost his creative gifts. If you are interested in such a fictional reckoning of the late sixties/early seventies mindset you will love Crossroads. Franzen fans will as well find it an admirable addition to his corpus. I, for one, can’t wait for the sequel.