Purity by Jonathan Franzen – Book

Much has been said about purity in recent years. Food is one
area where claims to purity add retail value for those who feel that eating
healthy is actually now a cultural responsibility. Purity in relation to our energy
sources – that they need to be carbon neutral and simple mechanisms that tame
natural forces for our use (like heat from the sun and wind from earth’s air
currents) – is another way the idea of purity has become an obsession for
those who can choose. One test mentioned often in Republican circles is the
test to determine how closely Conservative politicians adhere to right wing
orthodoxy, or, in other words, a test of purity.
All these ideas of purity and more sit behind this story. And
lots of impurity sits behind this story also. Purity is the birth name of the
main character who leads us into the events Franzen creates for us. What some
may find difficult about this offering is the way Franzen jumps to seemingly
unrelated characters and then shows us the connection when he’s ready. However
it all comes together in the end and I am guessing that the story structure is
very deliberate.
Purity lives in a derelict house with Dreyfuss who is one loan modification away from losing his only possession. Three other people
share the space with Purity and Dreyfuss; Stephen, Marie and Ramon. Purity is a
telemarketer whose main goals in life are to get out from under her student
loans and to have a relationship with Stephen which she cannot have because he
is married to Marie. A strange German visitor, Annagret, offers Purity – known
as Pip right now – an internship with a group called The Sunlight Project,
which has far more humane goals than Pip’s current employer. The Sunlight
Project is headed by a man named Andreas Wolf who is considered a cult hero.
Annagret has Pip complete a weird interview and tells her she is qualified for
the internship.
We jump to the story of Andreas Wolf, the legendary project
leader of this WikiLeaks- style operation designed to expose world actors whose
motives are less than pure. Wolf grew up in East Berlin in the years before the
Berlin Wall came down. Does this tough beginning justify some of the traits we
find in Andreas Wolf? You must decide.
Pip (Purity) spends lots of time talking to her agoraphobic
mom, Anabel, who has every other possible phobia also, but who obviously loves
her daughter, although we wonder who takes care of whom in this relationship. Would Anabel
have had any kind of life if she did not have Pip? Purity has never been
allowed to know who her father is and in fact Anabel says he abused her and
that he is dangerous. Pip still wants to find her father. We eventually hear
about the romance between Pip’s mom and a man named Tom Aberant (emphasis on
the Ab), a relationship which was good for a while and then devolved into spite,
anger, and revenge.
There is also a connection between Tom Aberant and Andreas
Wolf which I will not explain because it is at the heart of this novel and
because it might spoil the book for you.
Franzen wants, perhaps, to prepare us for how very difficult
it is for flawed humans to attain anything approaching purity unless it is a
name you give your child – a name that she is not even allowed to use. It is a
pretty good microcosm of the way the developed world rolls in these early
decades of the 21st century. 
Jonathan Franzen is a great storyteller. He’s the kind of
writer with enough craft that we forget to even be bothered by the words on the
page because there are no flaws to distract us. The story is in the foreground,
the writing underlies it, but we don’t notice it. Character development is more
problematic in Purity because at times Franzen almost seems to be writing
separate short stories. We are yanked out of one set of characters and settings
into new characters and settings with little transition. But eventually Franzen
ties his new characters back to the old characters and voila, the plot thickens
and unfolds almost like a mystery story which we solve with the author’s help.
Another difficulty some may find with this story is that the
message does not seem unique or profound enough to justify the length and
complexity of the story or even to turn this into a truly great novel. On the
other hand, it is a good social commentary and it is more substantial than some of the popular novels that are its
contemporaries. Perhaps time will change my take on this. Some novels require a
lengthier digestive period than others. I still recommend Purity by Jonathan Franzen because, although not perfect in my
estimation, it is still a good read.
By Nancy Brisson

April 2016 Book List

(Editor’s Picks for Spring)- these might not all be available yet
Zero K by Don
De Lillo
The Nest by
Cynthis D’Aprix Sweeney
Murder of Mary Russell
by Laurie R. King
by Lyndsay Faye
Sellout: A Novel
by Paul Beatty
Brave is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave

by Richard Russo
A Novel
by Saleem Haddad
Fool Me

by Harlan Coben
by Lisa Scottoline
LaRose by
Louise Erdich
by Anna Quindlen
Stories are Love Stories
by Elizabeth Percer
As Close
as Breathing: A Novel
by Elizabeth Poliner
The 14th
Colony: A Novel
by Cotton Malone
Trials of Apollo Book One The Hidden Oracle
by Rick Riordan
Unashamed by
LaCrae Moore
Midnight (The Dark Artifices)
by Cassandra Clare
Lust and
Wonder: A Memoir
by Augusten Burroughs
Booksellers  – Always report what people
have been buying.
The Nest by
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
to Munich
by Jacqueline Winspear
Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
Little Red Chairs
by Edna O’Brien
My Name
is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
Fool Me

by Harlan Coben
Murder of Mary Russell
by Laurie R. King
Ancient Minstral
by Jim Harrison
At the
Edge of the Orchard
by Tracy Chevalier
Waters of Eternal Youth
by Donna Leon
by Martha Hall Kelly
Walk: A Novel
by Richard Wagamese
Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
by Fredrick Backman
by Paul Beatty
by Richard Price
Emma by
Alexander McCall Smith
Uprooted by
Naomi Novak
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Outline by
Rachel Cush
Sunshine Away
by M. O. Walsh
Turner House
by Angela Flournoy
I Am
by Rief Larsen
A Darker
Shade of Magic
by VE Schwab
Dangerous Place
by Jacqueline Winspear
Swans of Fifth Avenue
by Melanie Benjamin
What is
Yours is Not Yours
by Helen Oyeyemi
Off the

by CJ Box
Other Side of Silence
by Philip Kerr
by Fiona Barton
The 14th
by Steve Berry
Felicity by Mary
Nights in 1980
by Molly Prentiss
The Last
Painting of Sara de Vos
by Domenic Smith
by Lyndsay Faye
by Stuart Woods
For a
Little While
by Rick Bass
The Year
of the Runaways
by Sunjeev Sahota
to the Night Vale
by Joseph Fink
The Passenger by Lisa
Over Everything
by Kathleen Grissom
Story of Kullervo
by J. R. R. Tolkien
All the
Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders
Weekly – Some of these titles have not been published here yet
Booked by
Kwame Alexander (Language, Literature and Soccer)
The Wild
by Peter Brown (Robot on rocky island) (YA)
I Will
Find You
by Joanna Connors
A Spirited Manifesto
by Lesley Hazelton (NF)
Girl in
the Blue Coat
by Monica Hesse “riveting Holocaust novel”
Nameless City
by Faith Erin Hicks (Trilogy) (YA)
Golden Condom and Other Essays on Love Lost and Found
Jeanne Safer (NF)
Passion of Dolssa
(1241) by Julie Berry
Boys: A Novel
by Sonya Hartnett
by Justin Tussing
Agony by Mark
Fool Me

by Harlan Coben
Wink Poppy
by April Genevieve
I Will
Miss You Tomorrow
by Heine Bakkeid
Savages, 4th volume
by Sabri Louatah
Affections by
Rodrigo Hasbùn (Bolivian) (not out yet)
Badlands by Arne
Dahl (Swedish) (not out yet)
by Daniela Tully (German) (not out yet)
Substance of Evil
by Luca D’Andrea (Italian) (not out yet)
Now Let’s
by JC Lattés (French) (not out yet)
Yoro by
Marina Perezagua (Spanish) (not out yet)

Compiled by Nancy Brisson

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo – Book

Jo Nesbø wanted to write a book unlike his usual noir
detective stories starring the ragged but morally straight Harry Hole. Nesbø
says that he has always admired the Sámi cultural group (we know them as
Laplanders) who occupy the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia including his
home nation of Norway. The Sámi’s are hunters and reindeer herders and
fishermen and, too often, drinkers. Their numbers are small and their towns are
too, so most Sámi’s in a given community know each other well. Strangers do not
visit the Sámi’s often. The climate is harsh; the sun is either low-in- the-sky
and omnipresent, or is totally missing in action. These towns are not normally
tourist destinations.
So when a “southerner” turns up in a Sámi town one day when
the sun is still out at midnight townspeople guess that he may be on the run
from something, but they don’t make a big deal of it. Jon’s first acquaintance
when he gets off the bus in the town of Kasund is a native man called Mattis
who, when asked says he can sleep in the church. Jon is obviously out of place.
Mattis doesn’t even know the half of it, although he suspects. Jon has a gun
tucked in the back of his pants. He is hiding a money belt full of stolen
money. He is not a bad man really, but he is not a good man either. He is from
Oslo and he is running away. He is running away more or less because of what he
has not done than because of what he has done. He has suffered a great loss,
but he is still trying to fight for his own life, although he is not sure why.
He tells the man that his name is Ulf and that he came to hunt and he goes off
to sleep in the church.
Then he meets Knut who is ten and his beautiful mother Lea who
helps him before he even knows her name. She loans him her husband’s hunting
rifle and hunting cabin. She’s a very good person whose father is a preacher in
the very strict Læstadian Christian sect which is common among the Sámi people.
Her husband is fishing but Ulf senses there is more to the story of this
husband and wife than he is hearing.
Jon/Ulf is an unusual character for Nesbø to write about. He
has a reputation as a killer but he has not actually killed anyone. He is a
thief only because when he had to run he ran with a drug dealer’s money because
it was there and it would have been stupid not to take it (although it was also
stupid to take it). Jon worked for a low-life crime boss with a fearful
reputation, called the Fisherman. The Fisherman does not let anyone who works
for him do the things that Jon has done, or not do the things that Jon has not
Jon needed a large sum of money for a good reason, although I
will not tell you what it was. I will tell you that I enjoyed Jon’s sojourn
with the Sámi and the tale is certainly a departure for Jo Nesbø and I can also
say that I think you might enjoy it. His Harry Hole books connect with those of
us who live in modern cities much more than this short novel does, but the book
is a nice tribute to the Sámi people and it is totally fair for an author to
use his clout to bring this isolated group of people into our hearts and minds.
By Nancy Brisson

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Book

Colm Tóibín writes about what he knows. He writes about the
village where he was born in Ireland. He writes, in Brooklyn, about the immigrant experience. Eilis Lacey, her sister
Rose, and her Mom live in an all-female household, although there was once a
father and three sons.
Eilis would be happy living her entire life right in this
village which she loves, but her mother’s pension is small and there are few
opportunities in her village for a career or a good marriage. When Father
Flood, who once knew her father, visits his Irish home from America and learns
that Eilis knows how to keep account books, he talks he mother into sending her
to Brooklyn. On the way out of Ireland she visits quickly with the youngest of
her three brothers who all had to move to England to find work.
The author of this book, which was twice short-listed for the
Man Booker Prize, knows how to tell a story. He gently leads us through the
enormity of leaving home alone at such a young age. We are driven forward into
the details of Eilis’s unsought adventure. The Father has strong and
trustworthy connections within his Brooklyn parish, although because of her age
and the times Eilis’s behavior is under constant scrutiny by her landlady, the
other girls who live with her, her employers, and her fellow employees. She
stays on her feet, until she doesn’t.
However the author just as gently portrays her crushing
homesickness. Finally, when Father Flood understands the depths of her despair
he helps her enroll in night school bookkeeping classes so she won’t always
have to work as a retail clerk. Being busier is better. Eilis is also
encouraged to attend the parish dances on Friday nights.
The second half of this novel was more problematic for me
because of the choices that Eilis is required to make. Perhaps the Catholic
Church would help a poor girl find the money to travel again back and forth on
a ship due to a family matter, but it tested the limits of my credulity a bit.
I came from a poor family and, although people were kind, no one handed out
large sums of money and pride would not allow us to take it.
Nevertheless, Eilis is presented with an opportunity, however
complicated, to return to a life in her Irish Village or to return to Brooklyn.
In order to make the choice to stay in Ireland she would have to liberate
herself from every inch of her upbringing, every one of her values, and she
would have to betray church, family, and a person she loves. 
The whole situation struck me as a bit contrived, but, since
this author writes about his home maybe he has an actual family or village
story in mind. Part of the problem may be that although the author tells a good
story he is still a man writing about a young woman and he has the reader
viewing her from the outside. This is not a first person story. We care about
Eilis, but we are not privy to much of her inner life. The ending is growing on
me, but the novel doesn’t really speak to my own life and times (except for the
homesickness; that I have experienced).
By Nancy Brisson