That’s how I’ve felt while reading each of Franzen’s novels. He has such an amazing talent for empathy—getting to the very heart of what a man feels, worries about, cares about—that reading his new novel Crossroads seems therapeutic. It may even be better than weekly sessions with a private therapist/psychiatrist.
Crossroads is the story of a preacher—an associate minister—and his struggles to relate to his wife and kids, both his own kids and the kids in the youth ministry he founded before being booted from it on false pretenses and accusations. He is a protagonist some readers might not be able to relate to in the hands of a lesser writer since, after all, how many of us are ministers? Even those of us who are leaders in our own churches tend to be part-time lay leaders rather than full-time, paid pastors, right?
But in the hands of Franzen, Russ Hildebrandt is a perfect “everyman”; all those of us who try to live an ethical life, at least; to be a good dad, a good husband while, despite making our best efforts, often finding we’ve fallen quite short. This is reality in book form; all your list of worries distilled, magnified, and examined: Russ doesn’t make enough money, mentally struggles with his failures in his career not hardly living up to his dreams, has become bored with his life, harbors animosity towards his wife and associates for (it seems) hardly adequate reasons, is disappointed with (at times) his kids, and (other times) fails as their father. The list goes on and on. In other words, this is your life; or what it might be if you plugged in your own complaints. And all he needs is a little grace and some luck, just like the rest of us.
I suppose it is refreshing to see that even a faithful preacher, potentially God’s favorite son, still can’t get a break at times.
Incidentally, it’s like looking at myself in a mirror, more so than any protagonist I’ve met in a long time (if at all), and I’m rooting for him like no other. His failures are my own, and when he’s vindicated, when he receives that grace he so very deserves, it makes me feel really good about my life. Much better, in fact. That’s why this novel is so encouraging and life-affirming.
Purchase Crossroads from the Amazon Book Store.