Purity by Jonathan Franzen

This book took me way too long to get through. A symptom of a busy schedule, but also a symptom of Jonathan Franzen’s writing style.


Jonathan Franzen is not an author that focuses on the storyline or the plot, but on the characters. Everything he knows about the characters, he lets you in on. Sharing their history, everything that is relevant to the plot and everything that isn’t necessarily connected to the plot. His focus is to create an intimate relationship between the reader and the characters. We know their deepest darkest secrets, their fears that rock them to their cores, what makes them happy, the dream life they always wish for, everything that lifts their lips or drags them down. We know why they make every decision without an explanation.

Decisions and reasons don’t need to be explained to the reader, we’ve seen where the character has come from, we’ve seen how certain things make them feel, we know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Onto the plot, if you’re a very innocent reader I do not recommend Purity to be in your beach bag this summer. Sex and sexuality basically plays its own character in this book. With each character having their own personal perceptions and problems with sex. Whether they hate kissing and love eating out or only receive pleasure during certain points in the lunar cycle, sex and lust are a huge variable within how the characters interact with each other. From when they first met to months and years after, do they still fuck or are tormented by their previous relationship?

As a basis of understanding if you are interested in this book, we follow the interactions of a couple main characters as the story evolves. Pip, whose full name is Purity, grew up with her paranoid mother, Anabel, in a small cabin on the outskirts of California. She’s a couple years out of college and saddled with thousands of dollars in student debt. Living in a shared house, she sends every dollar she can muster from her less-than fabulous job with her boss constantly hitting on her.

Some events happen that I will not spoil that forces Pip to lust for a change of pace and location. Before you know it, where traversing natural trails in South America as Pip finds her new place within the Sunlight Project, an organization that reveals corruption and hidden secrets within governments and public figures. The Sunlight Project is an organization founded by Anreas Wolf, a man born and raised in Germany under the Stasi during their power and downfall. His fame grew with every scam he unfolded and all the information he uncovered.

Add two more characters in a hundred pages later, each with their own complicated past. Meet Leila and Tom, two journalists working to uncover the truth, unbiased or clouded, using only factual information from only factual sources for their own newspaper.

Out of all these characters and storylines is a family at the center. A nuclear family with their own problems that made connections and the entanglements grew. The only question is, who’s the family, do they know, and how does sex play a role in such?

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