"Pip doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she’ll ever have a normal life. It takes a seemingly chance encounter with two visitors from Germany to send Pip―and the reader―on a journey of discovery that ranges from Stasi-era East Berlin to a rainforest in Bolivia."
He is a fastidious portrait artist and an epic muralist at once, and the compact passage above, mapping the self-consciousness we all live within, is in micro what this very macro book is all about: human response, for better and for worse, to human response.
Franzen can be piercingly brilliant at deconstructing myths the culture tells about itself. There are many paragraphs in this book that read like inspired op-eds. You don’t read him for the polemic, however, but for the way he roots these ideas in his flawed and beguiling characters, and for the smile that haunts sentences that have the authentic cast of joined-up thoughts.