Economics in Jonathan Franzen’s *Purity*

America’s hottest author apparently has been thinking about economics, as you can see on page one:

It wasn’t as if Pip felt good about making fun of her mother.  But their dealings were all tainted by moral hazard, a useful phrase she’d learned in college economics.

Or later:

“America put too much carbon into the atmosphere, renewable energy could help with that, federal and state governments were forever devising new tax inducements, the utilities were indifferent-to-moderately-­enthusiastic about greening their image, a gratifyingly non-negligible percentage of California households and businesses were willing to pay a premium for cleaner electricity, and this premium, multiplied by many thousands and added to the money flowing from Washington and Sacramento, minus the money that went to the companies that actually made or installed stuff, was enough to pay 15 salaries at Renewable Solutions and placate its venture-capitalist backers.”

There is even some Widow’s Cruse:

Their theory was that the technology-driven gains in productivity and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs would inevitably result in better wealth distribution, including generous payments to most of the population for doing nothing, when Capital realized that it could not afford to pauperize the consumers who bought its robot-made products.

Ted Gioia liked it.  Laura Miller liked it.  Here is a useful Christian Lorentzen review.  Here is Colm Toibin’s take:

“Purity,” in other words, depends more on story than on style. It can seem, in fact, as though there is a battle going on in the novel between the slackness of its style and the amount of sharp detail and careful noticing, especially regarding Pip’s role as a damaged innocent in need of rescue and redemption. Most of the time, there is something oddly invisible about the style, so that you do not notice it as the plot moves from event to event.

Overall, after sixty-one pages of reading, I would not dissuade the eager, nor would I attempt to convert the skeptical.  I am closer to the latter group, as the main theme, described by Sam Tanenhaus as “the false idolatry of the digital age,” is too close to my daily life to interest me further; it’s Raskolnikov, Captain Ahab, and Colonel Kurtz for me.  It is Beauty is a Wound, by Eka Kurniawan from Indonesia, that I am waiting for: “There is much dying in the novel.”


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