This simmering 70s-set domestic drama is warm, expansive and funny – a pure pleasure to read

The times are a-changing in solid, respectable New Prospect, Illinois, where Christmas 1971 arrives in a whirl of sex, drugs and folk music, while the Vietnam war grinds on off stage. Inside the First Reformed church, the worshippers are attempting to ride out the storm, casting about for something rock solid and true. This might be God or family or a fresh myth to believe in, a 20th-century pursuit-of-happiness tale, self-authored if need be.

New Prospect is in a state of flux but Jonathan Franzen remains reliably, defiantly Franzen-esque, tending to his faltering flock in fair weather or foul, and whatever the ructions in the country at large. Crossroads, his splendid sixth novel, comes billed as the first part of a proposed trilogy, A Key to All Mythologies, named after Edward Casaubon’s absurd, unfinished tract in Middlemarch. But, in the best possible way, it feels less like a beginning than like the latest yield of a familiar crop, or a newly discovered branch of a big midwestern family.

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