Purity by Jonathan Franzen
A Novel

65%

44 Critic Reviews

It is testament to Mr Franzen’s talent that he has created his own great works to measure up to. Unfortunately, though, “Purity” does not manage to do so.
-The Economist

Synopsis

A New York Times bestselling magnum opus for our morally complex times from the author of Freedom

Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother--her only family--is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she'll ever have a normal life.

Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world--including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.

Purity is a grand story of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has imagined a world of vividly original characters--Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers--and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Purity is the most daring and penetrating book yet by one of the major writers of our time.

 

About Jonathan Franzen

See more books from this Author
Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels (Freedom, The Corrections, Strong Motion, and The Twenty-Seventh City), two collections of essays (Farther Away and How to Be Alone), a personal history (The Discomfort Zone), and a translation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, all published by FSG. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California. Karl Kraus (1874–1936) was an Austrian satirist, playwright, poet, aphorist, and journalist. From 1899 until his death, he published the literary and political review Die Fackel.
 
Published September 1, 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 577 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Political & Social Sciences, Humor & Entertainment, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Sep 20 2015
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for Purity
All: 44 | Positive: 26 | Negative: 18

Kirkus

Excellent
on May 06 2015

But here, he’s admirably determined to think big and write well about our darkest emotional corners. An expansive, brainy, yet inviting novel that leaves few foibles unexplored.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on May 01 2015

Gradually, it becomes clear that Franzen's greatest strength is his extensive, intricate narrative web—which includes a murder in Berlin, stolen nukes in Amarillo, and a billion-dollar trust. Though the novel lacks resonance, its pieces fit together with stunning craftsmanship.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Colm Tóibín on Aug 26 2015

It is, in its way, an ambitious novel, in that it deals with the way we live now, but there is also a sense of modesty at its heart as Franzen seems determined not to write chiseled sentences that draw attention to themselves.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Aug 24 2015

...Mr. Franzen has added a new octave to his voice. In fact, even readers who have found his earlier work misanthropic, too filled with bile and spleen for their tastes, are likely to appreciate his ability here to not just satirize the darkest and pettiest of human impulses but to also capture his characters’ yearnings for connection...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Tim Adams on Sep 06 2015

...he said both mischievously and in earnest, “it takes 600 pages to convey emotion”. This novel, with its baggy plot and big heart and seductive intelligence, proves his point in a mere 563.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Curtis Sittenfeld on Aug 26 2015

On the one hand, I’m disinclined to recommend this book...On the other hand, if I’d been told Purity was a first novel by an unknown writer – male or female – I suspect I’d be dazzled...

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NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Suad Khatab Ali on Aug 29 2015

He needs to let his story, if indeed he has one, speak for itself, rather than force it to cower behind a strand of trees, twitching, watching, note-taking, hiding in the foliage.

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NPR

Below average
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Sep 02 2015

Some contemporary novelists like, say, Zadie Smith, David Mitchell and Donna Tartt have pulled it off, but, despite the Dickensian echoes of his heroine's name, Franzen can't meet such great expectations in Purity.

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NPR

Below average
Reviewed by Roxane Gay on Sep 01 2015

Unfortunately, the shame of this novel is that purity is largely found not in the storytelling but in the author's passive aggressive contempt for nearly all his characters.

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by Christopher Tayler on Sep 04 2015

Franzen shows considerable technical chops in the construction and management of his narrative structure, and Purity is often very absorbing. But his giant canvas comes at a price if you don’t like writing in which a character can walk around “with a lump of near-clinical depression in her throat” or refer to sex as “our liquid interfacing”.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by David L. Ulin on Aug 25 2015

That's fierce writing, and it does what fiction is supposed to, forcing us to peel back the surfaces, to see how love can turn to desolation, how we are betrayed by what we believe. It is the most human of dilemmas, with which we all must come to terms.

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Globe and Mail

Above average
Reviewed by Jared Bland on Sep 04 2015

Perhaps. I don’t know him. His public persona can be gleefully antagonistic. But the beauty of Purity is that it’s a novel–if you so choose, you can read it, not its author.

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AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Gregg LaGambina on Sep 14 2015

Franzen seems less in control here than he was in those previous works, but the untidiness that plagues parts of Purity also lends it an engaging kind of chaos. The high-wire act eventually pays off...

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The Economist

Below average
on Sep 05 2015

It is testament to Mr Franzen’s talent that he has created his own great works to measure up to. Unfortunately, though, “Purity” does not manage to do so.

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Toronto Star

Above average
Reviewed by Patricia Hluchy on Sep 10 2015

...much of Purity is engaging and brilliant. Few contemporary authors make characters as vitally alive and heartbreaking in their failures as Franzen does. However flawed, his new novel is still a work to be reckoned with.

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Entertainment Weekly

Above average
Reviewed by Leah Greenblatt on Aug 28 2015

Maybe Franzen did grow tired of his creation; the book ends suddenly, somewhere between a bang and a whimper. It’s as if after more than 560 enraging, engaging pages he’s pushed his chair away from the table, finally full—whether or not his reader feels the same.

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The Washington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Aug 18 2015

With her goofy sarcasm and unflappable good nature, Pip arrives at a place of light and forgiveness. That’s lovely, but it can’t quell this novel’s profound anxiety about our future.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Max Benwell on Sep 12 2015

Still, Purity is just as good as Freedom, if not better by virtue of its greater ambition. It could easily have become the third part of a domestic trilogy, and been satisfactory. But, by reaching back into his catalogue, Franzen has been able to jump forwards, and fly the family nest with style.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Benjamin Markovits on Aug 06 2015

This is the kind of tortuous, almost reasonable thinking that Franzen excels at describing. The novelist he most reminds me of is Kingsley Amis – another writer with a sharp ear for the way more or less stable people rationalise their screw-ups to themselves, and each other.

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The Telegraph

Good
Reviewed by Duncan White on Aug 04 2015

The things he says make people hate him, truly, viscerally (he once googled himself in 2001 – never again). He is really into bird watching. But when he can write novels as funny and furious as Purity, none of this seems to matter.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
on Jul 17 2015

Franzen has created a spectacularly engrossing and provocative twenty-first-century improvisation on Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, Great Expectations.

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Huffington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Claire on Aug 26 2015

...Purity is about the encroachment of techno-fascism...I would recommend this book to a friend whose favorite book was Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

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Dallas News

Good
Reviewed by Ted Gioia on Aug 29 2015

Purity is not without its blemishes. Occasionally Franzen gets bogged down in his intricate story...Even so, this is a smart, fun novel, and almost certain to be one of the most discussed books of the year...

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Alden Mudge on Sep 01 2015

The plot thickens. And Purity becomes a novel that is impossible to put down—and impossible to stop thinking about once you have put it down.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Jocelyn McClurg on Sep 06 2015

And of course the prickly Franzen has made no secret of his disdain for the Internet and Twitter and Facebook, and he skewers the online world to brilliant effect...

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Express

Good
Reviewed by Hannah Beckerman on Aug 29 2015

Despite that and despite the fact that most of Purity’s characters are devastatingly unhappy for much of the story, the book’s conclusion is ultimately redemptive.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Above average
Reviewed by Linda Morris on Sep 05 2015

His gleeful self-mockery sits alongside the author's reputation for surliness and self importance. He's no friend of the internet and social media often rages about him.

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Slate

Good
Reviewed by Laura Miller on Oct 14 2015

I read these passages as sheer impishness, the high spirits of an author relaxing into his considerable native gifts. Of all the things people expect from a new Franzen novel, who’d have anticipated that more than anything else it would be so much fun?

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Newsday

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel Akst on Aug 28 2015

It's impossible to say much more about the plot without spoiling the pleasure of this deeply pleasurable book. Suffice it to say that many of the author's characteristic concerns play out here

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Journal Sentinel

Good
Reviewed by Mike Fischer on Aug 28 2015

Purity Tyler — heroine of the latest novel confirming that Jonathan Franzen is among this country's best living writers — goes by the nickname Pip. It's a nod to the hero of Dickens' "Great Expectations" — a novel that, like "Purity" itself, explores how we project our childish fantasies onto our children...

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Library Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by LJ REVIEWS on Aug 06 2015

...Franzen, who often decries the state of our increasingly materialistic, high-tech society via his essays and novels, this time proffers a more hopeful, sympathetic worldview.

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BuffaloNews.com

Below average
Reviewed by William L. Morris on Aug 23 2015

They still have great expectations. But it would go better for them and for the reader, too, if something in their anisotropic DNA could find a way to change wishful thinking into art.

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The Atlantic

Good
Reviewed by Caleb Crain on Sep 01 2015

...thanks to the safe remove that fiction affords—and thanks to the sense of “pleasure and connection” offered by characters whose minds seem alive in the same way as the reader’s own—the ride is exhilarating. All the way down.

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Herald Scotland

Below average
Reviewed by Hugh Macdonald on Aug 28 2015

Franzen has written big novel, wide in geographical scope and multi-faceted in character. But it lacks genuine depth. It takes on the heavyweight subject of evil and falls just short.

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The Mockingbird

Above average
Reviewed by DAVID PETERSON on Sep 10 2015

Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Purity, came out last week, and although it temporarily cost me some good moods and positive self-regard, I got through it. Franzen has a real knack for exposing the ugly personal implications behind most of my daily behaviors.

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National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by Emily M. Keeler on Aug 27 2015

The book, like the author, is a punchline you could theoretically laugh at. Franzen, an apoplectic clown, is very much in on the joke, yes. It’s a shame his laughter is too bitter to share in.

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https://www.bostonglobe.com

Good
Reviewed by Bret Lott on Aug 29 2015

He is a fastidious portrait artist and an epic muralist at once, and the compact passage above, mapping the self-consciousness we all live within, is in micro what this very macro book is all about: human response, for better and for worse, to human response.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com

Above average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Aug 18 2015

The final section, which concludes on a note of romantic comedy, provides a respite from the book’s heft. But it feels neat, a little too small and personal for a story that offers such trenchant analysis of the sins of parenting...

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Raging Biblioholism

Below average
Reviewed by Drew on Sep 23 2015

But the novelist has no clothes: this is a bad book. The Corrections was a marvel, Freedom barely tolerable, and with Purity, Franzen’s schtick has just about run out.

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https://lareviewofbooks.org

Below average
Reviewed by Urmila Seshagiri on Sep 01 2015

Indeed, one of Purity’s deficiencies is its indifference to crucial distinctions between the internet, the minuscule fraction of the internet comprised by social media, and the broad field of computer science.

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http://flavorwire.com

Below average
Reviewed by Jonathon Sturgeon on Aug 21 2015

But the reason Purity fails is purity. As a theme, as a persistent refrain in the novel, it comes to replace the feelings and characters and details that matter. Does Franzen truly believe his readers need to hear that the world is impure?

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https://litreactor.com

Above average
Reviewed by Charles Bukowski on Sep 15 2015

...Franzen’s intention with Purity isn’t to corrupt his audience. Sure he has sex in it but it's sex with a purpose. He’s trying to say that in the age of the internet where we have access to anything we want, it’s getting harder and harder to make a genuine connection with other people...

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https://litreactor.com

Good
Reviewed by FREDDIE MOORE on Sep 02 2015

The spectacle is, of course, the real reason to read the first Franzen epic in five years. This novel isn’t The Corrections, but its controlled plot, ambitious narrative, and insightful comments on investigative journalism and modern disconnect deliver on the hype.

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http://time.com

Good
on Aug 19 2015

This is still Franzenland: Purity closes on a profane shouting match between two adults who really ought to know better. But Purity is calm and quiet, having said what she needed to say.

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Reader Rating for Purity
65%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 1116 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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Louis Bruno 21 Sep 2015

Well, I had a lot of hope for this book but I could not finish this book. I gave it my all. I loved The Corrections and Freedom, but this felt like a writer who had given up on his intellectual scr...

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