Purity: Detail

Franzen’s way of describing the world always strikes me as so real and fresh and exact. I wanted to make a post of appreciation for some moments of description in this first section. Also, after reading a book like I Hate the Internet, which is practically stripped of any superfluous detail it feels fantastic to be steeped in a novel that takes time to indulge in lush portrayals of life. Similarly, Americanah and A Tale for the Time Being are extremely plot-driven, so they rarely pause to set the scene with as much precision as Franzen.

One of the passages that really struck me was Pip’s memory of contemplating her mother’s age for the first time: “Pip had looked at her mother’s hands. The skin on the back of them wasn’t pink and opaque like her own skin. It was as if the bones and veins were working their way to the surface; as if the skin were water receding to expose shapes at the bottom of the harbor” (6). This gives me such a clear image of what Pip saw. I’ve never heard hands or veins described in such a way, yet it makes so much sense. Another passage I loved was “His Gaze glanced down past her breasts, which at this point might as well have had giant eights stenciled on them, and settled on her legs. She would have sworn they were like an unfinished sudoku to Igor. He wore exactly that frown of preoccupied problem-solving” (37). The capitalization and description of the Gaze both directs the reader to the formal theorization of the Male Gaze (Mulvey), and gives the perfect performance of the Gaze with its problem-solving agenda of imagining the body naked, dissected. Popular criticism of Franzen as a misogynist aside, he knows how to write about the objectification of women.

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