What Is Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Purity’ About?

Now that the release of the much anticipated follow-up to Freedom is just around the corner, only one question remains: What is Jonathan Franzen's Purity about? Well, it's not the simplest of answers. But if you're trying to figure out whether or not you want to dive in to Franzen's newest novel based on the story alone, here's a little bit about Purity to help you figure it out.

The short answer is that Purity is about a girl named Purity, or "Pip" for short. Pip, like her Dickensian namesake, is of uncertain parentage and has a toxic mother figure. Pip is also facing $130,000 worth of students loans and in a dead end job, so perhaps it's no surprise that she seizes the opportunity to flee to Bolivia for an internship with The Sunlight Project, a fictional transparency organization in competition with Wikileaks.

Pip isn't the novel's only main character: in an interview with Laura Miller at BookExpo America, Franzen said that there are actually four point of view characters in Purity, including Andreas Wolf, the charismatic leader of The Sunlight Project; and Tom Aberant, a journalist in Denver. Unlike his last two novels, Purity has quite the complicated plot, although how exactly it binds these characters together is still unclear (or, perhaps, just a big spoiler). Nonetheless, it apparently involves nuclear weapons, doomed love affairs, and Andreas' criminal past in East Germany — sounds exciting!

So far, reviews of the book have been mostly positive. Writing in The Oyster Review, Megan Abbott, Elisabeth Donnelly, and Miranda Popkey all found things to like about the novel, although there was — unsurprisingly — some concern about his female characters. Other reviewers were even more enthused, claiming that Purity is even better than Freedom and The Corrections . "From its tossed-off observations ... to its thoughtful reflections on the moral compromises of journalism, Purity offers a constantly provocative series of insights," Ron Charles writes in the Washington Post.

Happily, Franzen also seems to have developed more of a sense of humor about his success: one of the novel's greatest strengths is apparently its meta-humor.

Despite the early raves, the new novel seems likely to raise some eyebrows over its portrayal of aggressive feminist Anabel Laird. After all, controversy is inevitable when it comes to Jonathan Franzen. Purity will be released on September 1, so you can expect the Frazenfreude, Franzen frenzy and other Franzen-related drama to begin imminently.