All About Jonathan Franzen's Next Big Release "Crossroads"

Johnathon Franzen's New Novel Crossroads
Image Source: Amazon

Jonathan Franzen is one of the most revered writers of the 21st century. Author of the legendary 2001 novel The Corrections, considered by many to be his magnum opus, he was also called "Great American Novelist" by Time Magazine. The Corrections earned him a National Book Award as well as earning him a spot on the shortlists for the Pulitzer Prize.

After this, Franzen continued his success with his 2010 novel Freedom, as well as 2015's Purity, all of which have had critical and commercial success unrivaled by his contemporaries. Many have wondered what is next for this prolific author's career. He is scheduled to release his next book, Crossroads on October 5th, 2021.

Taking place in the 1970's amid the counterculture movement, Jonathan Franzen's next novel, Crossroads will tell the tale of the Hildebrandt family as they contend with the changing landscape of American culture. It will be the first book in a future trilogy and will detail the lives of the children as well as the parents through flashbacks going all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century.    

Since it is no secret that Franzen specializes in anthology tales of uniquely American families, the hopes for the Hildebrandt family are high. All of the drama, relatable emotional strife, and questionable ambitions of the Lambert family from 2001’s The Corrections has our interest piqued.

After all, we know that Jonathan Franzen does family better than most authors. Whether he is using it for allegory or metaphor, he is skilled in weaving believable tales that involve loyalties and betrayals we are all too familiar with.

Indeed, Jonathan Franzen is entering that twilight part of his career. At 61, he has all the experience of writing successful novels and of navigating the industry of fiction. If wine only gets better with age, one can reasonably assume that Franzen’s new book, Crossroads will be one for the ages.

Perhaps the most exciting piece of information revealed about his upcoming book is the fact that it will be the first of a three-book anthology. Whether that means we will follow the same family for the entire series or defer to his more massive character casts is yet to be seen. Either way, we can rest assured that we will have quality new Franzen books to read for many years to come.

I recently preordered this book for myself, and as a consummate fan of Franzen's, I have to admit that I am pretty excited. He has never really disappointed. Many literature lovers know it can be dangerous to get hyped for a new book this late into an author's career, but I am optimistic. I think Franzen has what it takes to go the distance again.

Promo Photo of Jonathon Franzen
Image Source: The Guardian

The Setting of Crossroads

Jonathan Franzen’s latest book, Crossroads will take place in the early to mid-1970s with flashbacks to the early 20th century as well. Chicago in 1971 will be the primary stage for this story to unfold on. This just so happens to be a time period that is the setting for tons of great films and stories of which we are extremely familiar.

On the other hand, it is also a setting, that if spun in a new way, or given original nuance, could be more exciting than any previous incarnation of 1970’s America. Franzen has a history of using diverse characters with sometimes strange ideas. Injecting a sensitive Franzen character into this highly recognized era of America could be just what we have been looking for as readers.

The Hildebrandt family, the central protagonists of the story, are a complicated bunch. The patriarch, Russ, is a pastor at a suburban Chicago church. His wife, Marion, is mercurial and untamed and their marriage is in jeopardy. Their oldest child, Clem, has found resonance within the anti-war student movement while away at college. Clem's sister, Becky, is engaging with the counterculture while the youngest Hildebrandt, Perry, is struggling with drug addiction.

Photo of Chicago in 1971
Image Source: WBEZ

When legendary author Phillip Roth was only a year older than Franzen is now, he released what many consider to be his magnum opus, American Pastoral. It featured a fresh take on the 1960s as well as the 1970s and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. 

We have to ask ourselves if Franzen is in a similar place that Roth was, and the book features many of the same sentiments: counterculture, urban sprawl, the Vietnam War, then does this book have the potential to be Franzen’s best?

Allow me to put that into perspective for you. Jonathan Franzen has won many awards for his books, including the National Book Award for 2001’s The Corrections. That same book made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and earned him his first Salon Book Award. Then he earned another Salon for 2010’s Freedom, a book which was heavily featured on Oprah’s book club and touted as the novel of a new decade. 

In addition to those enviable statistics, he was also awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996, won the Berlin Prize in 2000, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2002. It’s safe to say expectations are high, not only for this new book but for this series as well. 

After all, it was Jonathan Franzen who told the New York Times he didn't know "if anyone really has more than six fully realized novels in them". With this in mind, the fact that Crossroads is not only his sixth novel but also the first in a trilogy really shows the level at which Franzen is producing these days. The trilogy will be called The Key To All Mythologies

The Setting of Jonathon Franzen's sixth novel
Image Source: Hemmings

Order of Jonathan Franzen Books

While we have referenced his previous works heavily above, it might be helpful to newcomers to Franzen to list his previous works in order here. There is still plenty of time to read his novels before the October 5th release of Crossroads

Here is the correct order of Jonathan Franzen's novels:

  • The Twenty-Seventh City - 1988
  • Strong Motion - 1992
  • The Corrections - 2001
  • Freedom - 2010
  • Purity - 2015
  • Crossroads - 2021

While all of these books will be rewarding if, given the proper time and attention, his most famous is still The Corrections. After that, his next two books, Freedom and Purity are well known because of their inclusion in Oprah's book club. This was actually a point of contention between the two celebrities for a time spanning from 2001 to 2010.

Franzen and Oprah make up on television
Image Source: NY Daily News

Jonathan Franzen VS. Oprah

Franzen and Oprah go way back. When she included The Corrections on her book club list in 2001, Franzen was offended. He called her book picks "schmaltzy" and "one-dimensional", which no doubt made her feel disrespected and talked down to. Her fans rallied to her side, and Oprah disinvited Franzen to the show to discuss his book.

It didn't take long for Franzen to backtrack in an effort to defend himself. “Oprah Winfrey is bent on demonstrating that estimates of the size of the audience for good books are too small,” he told his critics. “And that is why it is so unfortunate that this is being cast as arrogant Franzen and popular Winfrey.” It was this feud that finally ended in 2010 when Oprah welcomed him to her show to discuss his 2010 masterpiece Freedom.

After some initial awkwardness, the two praised each other. “It’s an honor to have you here,” she told the Pulitzer Finalist. Modestly, he responded, "It's an honor to be here."

Indeed, it has led to a fruitful relationship for both celebrities. After all, Oprah is too popular to mess with, and Jonathan Franzen, while being a highly intelligent author, would be wise not to cast himself in the unflattering light of unadulterated snobbery. Revisit the feud below with some thoughts from the man himself regarding his relationship with Oprah Winfrey.

Protestors put flowers in National Guard rifles
Image Source: AARP

What is the Counterculture Movement?

Since Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads appears to be taking the Counterculture movement head-on, let's discuss what exactly the Counterculture was. Although it was heavily rooted in the music, fashion, and social ideas of the youth of the 1960s, it was also heavily self-righteous and came from a group of kids who had it better than 99% of the world's population. With that in mind, the adults from the post-war era clashed with these new ideas, while trying to hold onto their old conventions and customs.

During the 1960s, the onset of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, as well as feminism coalesced into the perfect storm for protest. Music, fashion, and popular stars of the time all pointed toward the new liberal ideas of the youth. The typically American culture had been turned on its head, and now, youth across the nation was making their own kind of culture.

The Counterculture was a drastic shift in lifestyle and ideals that existed in opposition to the established norms and conventions of American life. It emphasized sexual liberation, women's and minority rights, as well as drug use and anti-war ideas.

This is a place that has had a recent upsurge in terms of entertainment in the last year. We discussed Judas and the Black Messiah last week, which was a huge hit and a great representation of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the 1960s in America. We wonder if Clem Hildebrandt will be involved with the student protestors a la The Chicago 7. 

Since Chicago is the home of the Hildebrandt family, we can reasonably assume that there will be references to this famous court case as well as the 1968 DNC riot in Chicago that sparked said case. While these are just some ideas we'd love to see in Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads, we know he will depict it in his own way, considering that he lived through this era and was only 9 years old when all of this happened.

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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