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The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen

The Twenty-Seventh City (1988)

by Jonathan Franzen

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If you ever wondered what a political thriller would look like if written by Jonathan Franzen, look no further. This is it.
I have difficulty rating this book. Franzen knows how to write. His characters are well-developed and is able to describe a scene or an individual's inner life with telling detail. However, in this novel his gifts are put to the service of a plot that is patently ridiculous.
In brief, the book is about a cabal of Indian immigrants, led by a charismatic woman hired as police chief, who seek to take over the power structure of St. Louis. If that doesn't sound crazy enough (e.g., what does Franzen have against south Asians? And why St. Louis, of all places?), they're able to accomplish this all within a period of eight months. They engage in everything from terrorist attacks to seductions of the city business leaders. All this happens as if St. Louis exists in a bubble. One plot involves an attempt to blow up Busch Stadium with three tons of cordite. How was all this explosive smuggled into the stadium without anyone noticing. And how was it that after the explosion, there was no involvement of the FBI whose forensics could easily trace the perps?
And I could go on and on listing equally implausible plot-points, from developers who changed the strategic direction of their companies without any deliberation with their Boards of Directors or stockholders to completely implausible romances.
Yet strangely, I still enjoyed turning the pages. I recognize that part of my enjoyment comes from my having lived in St. Louis a few years before this story supposedly happened, making the setting very familiar to me. But it was also a pleasure to read how Franzen weaves words and picks up on details that less imaginative writers would ignore.
But that plot: it still has me shaking my head. What a doozy!

( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
Well, somebody has to give this book a decent review. It was a decent book. Not great but good enough to keep reading if only to wallow in the luscious prose of Jonathan Franzen. This is the third book I've read by him. I can't really say that I loved any of them but his writing is so good that I can overlook some of the plot lines that don't grab me. This one had to do with corruption that came to St. Louis in the 1980s along with the female police chief from India. It sounds bizarre and becomes even more so when her minions start doing her dirty work behind the scenes. Her major foe is Martin Probst who built the Gateway Arch and is supposedly too level-headed to be taken in by Police Chief Jammu's "charms" so his family is targeted.

There are way too many characters to keep straight in the book but many are bit players who come and go. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on with the buying and selling of real estate, but it all comes down to political graft which, in my opinion, is not the most scintillating topic for a novel. I will recommend the book to fans of Franzen who are interested in reading his debut novel or my friends who hail from the St. Louis area. Franzen is a local boy who knows his turf and describes the beauty and decay in great detail. ( )
1 vote Donna828 | Jun 11, 2013 |
I give up. I've been working on this book for over a month now and I'm only halfway through, so it's time I threw in the towel. There are too many characters and too much conspiracy; I can't keep track. I think my head was in a bad place when I picked this up, and I shouldn't hold that against the book. But really. After 250 pages I should have at least found one character I care about, right? I'll leave a bookmark in it and maybe come back to it someday, but really, I doubt I will.

I'm sorry, Mr. Franzen. I tried. And it's not you, it's me. (But it might be you.) ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 31, 2013 |
Bombay police commissioner S. Jammu, a member of a revolutionary cell of hazy but violent persuasion, contrives to become police chief of St. Louis. In a matter of months, she is the most powerful political force in the metropolis. Her ostensible agenda is the revival of St. Louis (once the nation's fourth-ranked city and now its 27th) through the reunification of its depressed inner city and affluent suburban country. But this is merely a front for a scheme to make a killing in real estate on behalf of her millionaire mother, a Bombay slumlord. Jammu identifies 12 influential men whose compliance is vital to achieving her ends and concentrates all the means at her disposal toward securing their cooperation. Eventually, the force of Jammu's will focuses on Martin Probst, one of St. Louis's most prominent citizens, and their fates become intertwined. Franzen is an accomplished stylist whose flexible, muscular, often sardonic prose seems spot-on in its rendition of dialogue, internal monologue and observation of the everyday minutiae of American manners. His imagination is prodigious, his scope sweeping; but in the end, he loses control of his material. Introducing an initially confusing superabundance of characters, he then allows some of them to fade out completely and others to become flat. The result is that the reader is not wholly satisfied. Any potential for greater resonance is left undeveloped, and this densely written work ends up as merely a bravura exercise. The longest book I have read without a point. The plot is potentially massive and the cast equally so but in the end it seems to be an exercise in self-gratification on Franzen’s part as other than personal relationships of Probst, the book goes nowhere and does nothing. ( )
  loafhunter13 | Jun 13, 2010 |
Zynisch, oberflächlich, reine Effekthascherei: Den anderen Rezensionen bleibt nicht viel hinzuzufügen, außer vielleicht dies:
Franzen bewegt sich mit seiner vagen, auf Effekte bedachten Charakterzeichnung im stilistischen Fahrwasser eines Drehbuchs, genauer gesagt mancher Filme des Neuen Hollywood, die sich um analytische Härte, "soziale Themen" bemühen, ohne sich wahrhaft für diese Themen zu interessieren.
So bleibt es in der "27. Stadt" bei der wirkungsvoll schroffen Konstruktion der Handlungsebenen, beim Zusammenfügen verschiedener Lebenslinien, ohne daß je eine Figur des Romans mehr würde als eben eine Figur.
Dies vermag durchaus Spannung zu erzeugen, ja mitunter wird der Roman durchaus unterhaltsam, doch der Erzähler Franzen blickt mit einer solch abgebrühten Ahnungslosigkeit auf seine Erfindungen, daß die Lektüre zur reinen Achterbahn gerät. Spannung rauf, Spannung runter. Die Überraschungen sind denkbar plump gesetzt, ein Plot Point jagt den nächsten, und sobald eine Figur dem Autor Franzen allzu kompliziert wird, ihr weiteres Schicksal allzu unauflösbar erscheint, läßt er sie einfach sterben. Das ist zynisch und nicht einmal eines schlechteren Hollywoodschinkens würdig.
So geht Franzen in diesem Roman der Apathie und Gleichgültigkeit, die er gleichsam als untergründig wirkende Bremse der Protagonisten geißelt, selbst auf den Leim.
Ein enttäuschendes, ärgerliches Buch.
(Die Übersetzung von Heinz Müller tut ein Übriges; immer wieder schleichen sich ungeschickte Amerikanismen in das sperrige Deutsch. Lesen denn die Lektoren von Rowohlt solche Übersetzungen nicht quer? Schleierhaft.)
  r1hard | Nov 22, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312420145, Paperback)

St. Louis, Missouri, is a quietly dying river city until it hires a new police chief: a charismatic young woman from Bombay, India, named S. Jammu. No sooner has Jammu been installed, though, than the city's leading citizens become embroiled in an all-pervasive political conspiracy. A classic of contemporary fiction, The Twenty-Seventh City shows us an ordinary metropolis turned inside out, and the American Dream unraveling into terror and dark comedy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:01 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

St. Louis is embroiled in a political conspiracy after Jammu, a young woman from India, is installed as its new police chief. To succeed she realizes that respected businessman Martin Probst must be seduced or destroyed.

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