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Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

A Helen’s Reads Review *****
Meet the Hildebrandt family: firstly there is Russ, assistant pastor of the First Reformed church in New Prospect, a suburb of Chicago; then there is Marion, his wife; and their four children, Clem, Becky, Perry and Judson.
On one level, Crossroads is the story of a mid-western family in the early seventies, which is falling apart at the seams with each individual family member facing a literal crossroad in their life. Every member of this family is looking for freedom in one way or another, and will make and take decisions as they seek it, the consequences of which ripple outwards for themselves, and others.
Then, as a backdrop to the individual, domestic dilemmas and decisions, there is the dilemma faced by the nation itself. America is at its own crossroads with the war in Vietnam, and the growing chorus of objection at home to involvement in it, along with the rise of social issues such as drug taking, and a growth in liberal and libertarian beliefs.
I love how Franzen lays out for the reader the issues faced both at home and state level, and from these, weaves a story of epic proportions which will play out in this title, and another two volumes, still to come.
The action in Crossroads mostly takes place on one day, in the run up to Christmas, however, the past lives and experiences of each parent is also portrayed, along with the months after Christmas when all the chickens come home to roost, as a consequence of the decisions which were taken over the festive season.
If you love a character driven novel, you will delight in Crossroads. Each one is beautifully drawn and revealed as being completely human and flawed, and, often unlikeable and unlovable. But then Franzen turns the tables on the reader and suddenly you completely empathise with them and feel for them in the situations they find themselves.
It is a real chunk of a book but as you read it you don’t feel at all daunted by it, because it is written in a way that hooks you into the lives of its characters, carries you through their stories and spills you out at the end eager to know what happens next. A really absorbing, well-written read.
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Helen of Helen’s Reads is an English Literature graduate and a professional librarian with over 30 years’ experience of promoting books, reading, and engaging with readers. As well as being an avid reader she has an equal passion for chocolate and for cake, so it’s rather fortunate that she also enjoys walking the fells and footpaths of Cumbria as an antidote to all those calories!

All Helen’s reviews are unpaid, unprompted, and honest, and are of books she has purchased herself, borrowed from the library or received as proof copies from publishers. You can read more of her bookish thoughts on Goodreads at  and follow her on Instagram @hels_t_reads