Jonathan Franzen 2021
Russ Hildebrandt is struggling with his attraction to a woman in his congregation.
Well, not struggling, exactly. He’s fine with being attracted to her; in fact, he’s working hard at spending as much time as possible with her. His wife Marion is all but invisible to him, and his children are of no interest; they were Marion’s idea anyway.
We wouldn’t normally know all this about a man of the cloth, but Jonathan Franzen allows his readers to live inside Russ’ head, where there are no illusions of piety. The Hildebrandt children have their own issues, many of which involve their family dynamics. Three of the four kids, all teens now, have been or are involved with Crossroads, a youth group at First Reformed where Russ is the asssociate pastor and was, at one time, heavily involved as a leader with Crossroads.
With the exception of the youngest child, each Hildebrandt is explored in depth as they deal with crises past and present against the backdroup of the mid 20th century. Mental illness, addiction, infidelity, arrogance, body image, privilege, war, suicide, and ultimately, redemption are addressed in this engrossing family saga.
Narrator David Pittu’s characterizations of Russ Hildebrandt and Perry Hildebrandt are compelling; he expresses the voices of other male characters beautifully. For the first third of the book or so I was distracted by his interpretation of the female voices, which struck me as stilted and briefly took me out of the story. Whether due to improvement on the narrator’s part or gradually decreasing notice on my part, these characters do become easier on the ear as the book moves along.
It’s been a long, long while since I struggled so much to step out of a book and back into my life; I listened intently to Crossroads while knitting a shawl – and that’s all I did, until I finished this audiobook. There are a few loose ends with both the shawl, which isn’t done, and the book, but that’s ok; this is Book One of a series, and hopefully some of those loose ends will be tied up and the very abrupt ending will be expounded upon in future books.
The shawl is another story.
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