I’m just not going to waste a lot of words here because Franzen has wasted too many already. The main character is young woman named Pip, but that’s the end of the Dickens connection. The plot almost gets lost due to lengthy and irrelevant digressions into what I suppose is intended to be clever social satire and character background re bizarre mothers (and a couple fathers), sex, media (books, film, internet), privacy, bathroom feminism, women’s bodies, money and capitalism, etc. ??? = The writing is okay – the structure is rather good actually, considering what all Franzen felt he needed to drag out, the themes (except the main one) are rather overworked.
I really appreciated and enjoyed Franzen’s The Corrections, but he was already slipping with Freedom and Purity is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Gone is the low-key social satire based on character and social milieu, and what we have instead is lengthy and over-the-top sex and silliness amongst the post-internet youth, aging hippies and some general creepos.
The three books by Franzen do have some similarities. First, they are all about families in one way or another. The other similarity is in the titles – one strong word which works quite nicely as an over-arching theme – and in this case the name of the lead character as well.
Our protagonist, Purity Taylor (known as Pip) is a recent college graduate with a large student loan to pay off. She works in cold-call sales for a company of questionable ethics. Her mother is flakey ex-hippie who is in hiding from something or someone – Pip doesn’t know her mother’s real name nor who her father is – the two have mostly lived in a tiny isolated cabin in the greater Bay Area. Pip has been unable to find information about her parents on the internet and she some problems, but she’s basically a very good kid. I think Pip’s quest for info about her parents is the basic plot and that might have made for a good novel.
The only reason I didn’t quit at about page 100 was the above mentioned thread of a plot and the character of Pip was intriguing, bright and funny. In the end, I’m quite glad I finished. The idea behind the digressions mostly connect on some basic level (but did they really have to be so long?) and fit with the whole. Still, I have to give it a 7 because I only appreciated the really core story while there were huge chunks I pretty actively disliked.
Also, another reason for the 6 rating, there seems to be a strong thread of anti-feminism running through it. I understand the satire, I don’t understand the prevailing focus on women’s bodies and bizarre mothers. I’m glad this sense is validated by finding someone else who got that idea. Salon review by Lyn Lenz: