Jonathan Franzen's huge-canvased new book is about identity, the Internet, sexual politics, and love--among countless other things. It's deeply troubling, richly moving, and hilarious--featuring an unforgettable cast of inimitable Franzenian characters who grapple mightily and rewardingly with the great issues of our time and culture.
Purity Tyler, known to all as Pip, is an outspoken, forthright young woman struggling to make a life for herself. She sleeps in an rickety commune in Oakland. She's in love with an unavailable older man and is saddled with staggering college debt. She has a crazy mother and doesn't know who her father is. A chance encounter leads her to an internship in South America with the world-famous Sunlight Project, which uses the internet to expose government and corporate fraud and malfeasance. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic genius who grew up privileged but disaffected in the German Democratic Republic. Forced to run TSP in Bolivia because of the hostility of European nations whose misdeeds he has exposed, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand. Like numerous women before her, she becomes obsessed with Andreas, and they have an intense, unsettling relationship. Eventually, he finds her work at an online magazine in Denver with Tom Aberant, who, with his life partner, Leila Helou, uses old-fashioned reporting to achieve some of the same results that TSP seems to pull out of thin air.
That's the top story. What lies underneath is a wild tale of hidden identities, secret wealth, neurotic fidelity, sociopathy and murder. The truth of Pip's parentage lies at the center of this maelstrom, but before it is resolved Franzen takes us from the rain-drenched forests of northern California, to paranoid East Berlin before the fall of the Wall, to the paradisiacal mountain valleys of Bolivia, exposing us to the vagaries of radical politics, the problematic seductions of the internet, and the no-holds-barred war between the sexes.