"Strong Motion," the second novel by Jonathan Franzen, has ambitions as lofty, if not loftier, than his debut, "The Twenty-Seventh City." So how does it stack up? Better in some respects, not as good in others.
Don't let that dissuade you though, it's still a fantastic novel with more ambition than most. Set in Boston, 23 year old Louis Holland's grandmother passes away, leaving his mother Melanie to inherit $22 million worth of stock in petrochemical and weapons company, Sweeting-Aldren. His sister, Eileen, always gets as much money as she asks for, but Louis doesn't see a cent. Louis falls in love with Renée Seitchek, a seismologist who is determined to get to the bottom of whatever is causing the increasingly frequent earthquakes in the city.
Franzen writes with compelling, fluid prose, and compared to "The Twenty-Seventh City," renders his characters with more focus and complexity. However, "Strong Motion" doesn't quite manage to sew its subplots together with the same integrity as its predecessor, and while it treats its themes of abortion, feminism, science and faith with respect, the respective threads become knotted. Regardless, this book has plenty to say, and the most articulate parts still make for cracking reading.