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The Twenty-Seventh City

3.11 of 5 stars 3.11  ·  rating details  ·  2,500 ratings  ·  264 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 8th 2001 by Picador (first published 1988)
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Darwin8u
Franzen's freshman effort is striking. First, just one long gaze at the picture of Franzen on the back and it makes me think this kid must have been gnawing on ideas for this book in his mother's womb. Seriously, he looks like he might be wearing the same deodorant his dad gave him at puberty.

Franzen

Anyway, I was inspired to read this book because I was heading to St. Louis for a couple days and figured given the recent Ferguson-inspired race tensions, there might never be a more appropriate time to cr...more
Jessica
This is a big weird book, and the first novel I've been able to get into after a depressing reading rut. For some reason every reviewer on here seems to have hated or at least been disappointed by this book, but I thought it was a fun and unexpectedly bizarre read. Sure, it sagged a bit in the middle, but what 500 page book doesn't? I really haven't been able to get into any fiction in ages, and I wolfed this thing down in three days, looked forward to picking it up when I had to put it down and...more
Billy
Aug 03, 2008 Billy rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Jonathan Franzen
Hmm. It's hard to say this, since Jonathan Franzen has more talent in writing than I will ever have even tying my shoes. But compared to "Strong Motion" and "The Corrections", this book is tiresome, and falls unmistakably short of its ambitions. There are some hints of his gift (on more consistent display in later works) for hyper-perceptive and realistic accounts of the moment-by-moment consciousness of his characters; if only his regard for his characters in this one were more evenly distribut...more
Chris
This book held a very intersting ballance between being a page-turning thriller and a slow-paced, almost boring novel of mid-city civics. Franzen's first novel, it should have replaced the map of St. Louis with a chart of characters, a la most Tolstoy translations; the geography never was quite as confusing as the fifty+ main characters, their relationships, and which corperations or city office they controlled.

The plot is oddly conservative, centering around a plot by foreign (Indian) investors...more
Andrew
Let's talk about the comparisons between two of my favorite writers of the present era, Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace. Both write great, sprawling novels that, while epically long, aren't very difficult. Both express the unique anxieties and lonelinesses of our present era, and will both probably be remembered by future scholars as representative writers of our times. But in both cases, their first novels were really pretty weak. The Broom of the System feels like a young writer's ra...more
Kiof
Fake review: How can someone so obviously intelligent be a mere transcriber of platitudes? (quote from the book, btw). Real review: One of the trademarks of Franzen´s writing is the aftertaste of cynicism readily apparent in every one of his rather brilliant psychological insights. So it is hard for the reader not to treat his work with a similair level of hypercriticism.
Like how the friend who makes you laugh the most isn´t neccesarily going to be a great stand up comedian, so every man or wom...more
Lori
Hey, uh, Jonathan, I'd like my week back. That week I spent reading this piece of you-know-what? I know, I know, I read you backwards. Totally my mistake. I started with The Corrections several years ago, which I dearly loved. Then I read Strong Motion, which wasn't nearly as satisfying, but was still a worthwhile read. And now this. I stuck with this one to the very end because Strong Motion redeemed itself only in its latter pages. I kept thinking, okay, Jonathan, tie up a few of those loose e...more
Anna
Reading this book will give you a tight butt and killer abs. Franzen's first novel makes you work incredibly hard in order to keep up with the breathtaking variety of writing experiments he undertakes, such as (1) switching back and forth between time frames with no visible cues (e.g., line breaks); (2) writing whole page (or multiple page) sections without referring to character names; and (3) "skipping" entire events, requiring the reader to infer what happened between chapters (or parts of a...more
Angela
Sometimes I wonder if authors ever look back at their first book(s) and think, "wow, I can do so much better than that now." Think they ever regret publishing the early stuff?

I can't even tell you what happened here. It was so chocked full of politics (which I don't understand to begin with) and conspiracy (that I couldn't figure out the purpose for) that following anything was impossible.

A lot of my issues were character-related. There were just so many of them, with so few being memorable, tha...more
Holly
There should be a symbol for 'hated it.' One of the worst books I have ever read. Pretentious, agonizing, worthless, populated with extremely boring characters (in my opinion). What is it about? Some uninteresting combination of St Louis, Indian nationals, immigration and terrorism, a metaphorical story about metaphors, and Jonathan Franzen's love for his own vocabulary (or his thesaurus). I was actually angry at myself for finishing it, the Bataan Death March of books. If I ever read another Jo...more
Caroline
OK, if this book didn't contain so many references to Webster Groves I wouldn't have found it that great. "The Twenty-Seventh" city is a reference to St Louis and the plot is a bizarre takeover plot by Indian nationals. The identities of area notables and bigwigs are, by intent, not so carefully disguised and playing the game of "who's who" is fun. Find the place where Franzen goofs and calls Civic Progress by its real name, rather than the euphemistic title he gives it in the book (which has si...more
Carriefeibel
For those confused about the tone of this book, keep in mind it's a farce. Yes, you can see Franzen beginning to develop his trademark of creating deep characters with mixed intentions and loveable weaknesses. But some characters never gel and some get dropped (Duane never gets unmasked?). Who cares? The fun of the book is in the teetering-on-the-edge-of-plausibility plot. Franzen tries to imagine how St. Louisans, his staid, conflicted but conventional St. Louisans would react to terror, fires,...more
Matt
Oh, Jonathan Franzen, where to begin? Let me preface this by saying that I chose to read this book at random. I had just finished reading the latest lengthy installment of Robert Caro's masterful LBJ biography and I needed a fiction selection. I looked at my Amazon wish list of books to read, did a random number generator, and this book was at the top.

One more preface: just two days ago, after reading this book but before writing this review, I saw an excerpt of David Foster Wallace's biography...more
Gordon
Have you ever read an incredibly bleak and depressing book that was written so beautifully that you couldn't stop? Given all the buzz about Franzen's Freedom, I decided to see what his style was like in one of his previous works. He's a great writer, there's really no question about that, but the profoundness and specificity of the novel's examples make for a direct and devastating attack on any romanticized conceptions of America. If you want to know what's sick and twisted about any of the rel...more
Ryan
I am a definite Franzen fan, I loved Freedom and thought the Corrections was a fascinating character study kind of book even if I thought Freedom did laps around it. But this is not in the same class as those two. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, but at times it felt like a bit of a labor, and if it weren't for the trust Franzen has already built up with me from his past works, I'm not certain I would have seen it through to the end.

The plot is a sprawling conspiracy tale set in St. Louis...more
Corey
Disclaimer: I am a Franzen fan. After reading and thoroughly enjoying- The Corrections, Freedom, and even The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History- I (somewhat) incorrectly assumed an immediate connection to The Twenty-Seventh City. The novel’s premise screams intrigue: urban restructuring, political corruption, suburban discontent (in true J-Franz style), and adultery. However, the result was none other than an over-ambitions, convoluted plot and an ending filled with unnecessary murder. On a se...more
Mkeirsbi
Being a big fan of both the Corrections and Freedom, I decided to explore Franzen's earlier work. I started off with The Twenty-Seventh city, and was a bit surprised by how much this one differs from his later work. Instead of a satyrical tranche-de-vie of American (family) life, this one is a political thriller of sorts.

The story takes off when S. Jammu, an indian police officer with a double nationality, starts as the head of the St. Louis police department. She plots a conspiracy in order to...more
Jess
I rescued this book from the trashpile when my company moved and threw out an entire bookshelf worth of stuff. I'd never read any Franzen and thought this would be a free opportunity to do so.

There were times when I would begin to get pulled into the story, but the disorganization of the storytelling and the inconsistency of the writing style always left me confused and a bit alienated. Towards the end it picked up as the threads were coming together, but I didn't really like how it all turned o...more
Jeremy
This seems like the book which is most indicative of the 'maximalist' style which Franzen gets labelled as practicing. He throws just about everything he can at you, interior monologue, fake letters and news reports. It has a sort of perfunctory, journalistic feel throughout, in spite of the numerous stylistic tropes he messes around with. It takes a while to get off of the ground, and he leaves these big nebulous, loops of action which you sort of have to fill in with your own conjectures (is t...more
Anne
I'm not sure that I ever really got this book to be honest, but I enjoyed comparing it to the same author's The Corrections, one of my very favorite novels. In my opinion, this book falls into the Abuse of the Novel Form category (previously inhabited only by John Irving), trying to expand its universe too far and cram in to much detail and description. The Twenty-seventh City never really fills the space Franzen creates for it, and thus it is hard to care about what happens to St Louis or its i...more
Kim
I was gearing up to start Freedom, but I picked this up for 50cents at the library book sale and started reading. There is a plot line re. a mass-scale terrorism attack (on Busch Stadium) that is especially interesting in light of the fact that it was written 13 year before 9/11, but mostly I am enjoying all of the references to familiar St. Louis spots (the story is set here and I believe Franzen is a native.) Not enough UCity yet, but of course in the late 80s UCity was still on the decline an...more
Krysten
I quit after... not very many pages.

Bleaaaah fuck this book.
Richard Bon
Compared to Freedom and The Corrections, this predecessor, Franzen's first novel, didn't wow me as much its language or flow or the depth of its characters, but the intricacy of plot and indictment of urban American politics, still relevant today, captivated me to the last.

An immigrant to St. Louis from India, new police chief S. Jammu's political tactics are heartless and fierce. Without regard for collateral damage, she destroys people's lives as she works toward her goals for the city, the b...more
Mark Speed
A big novel for a young writer to take on - full of large characters and big themes: economic decline, closet racism, institutional corruption and complacency. Franzen chose his home town on St Louis - Gateway to the West, Rome of the West. The joke is that it was the fourth-largest city in the US in 1870, and at the time of writing it had dropped to 27th (58th in terms of population in 2012 - the descent continues). Young novelists are like rebellious teenagers - always ready to bite the hand t...more
Nancy
I seem to have rated this book higher than most other reviewers. To my mind, Franzen writes books that are unlikely to be beloved. This, his first novel, does not feature lovable characters. It doesn't rely on the reader's desire to spend more time with them. Even Martin Probst, the main character, who starts out with high ideals and strong morals, has obvious flaws even before he undergoes some transformation. Nevertheless, I was drawn into this novel by its focus on St. Louis politics, busines...more
Wilson Mui
It's interesting to see so many themes in this first novel that I would find later in "The Corrections" and "Freedom." The use of young female characters who, on the surface, appear strong and confident, to only be seduced and bedded by young male characters who are pedantic but living in their parent's basement, the male protagonist who appears to work endlessly for his family, only to be jilted by a restless, and confused wife.

Franzen doesn't quite capture the characters in a way that would ev...more
speciallyi
TBH at about 65% of the book I gave up and started flipping back and forth just to scope out what was going to happen next. Not sure what really happened in the end but this book was a plod-plod kind of book for me. Tedious, kind of intriguing but tedious as hell. The characters grew on me only because I invested so much time trying to focus on them. Bits of gems at times but honestly this is beyond me hahah don't really understand it. Perhaps with age I will learn to appreciate this book better...more
Cecil Paddywagon
I have tried to read this book twice.
The first time was exactly one year ago. I had just finished reading Freedom, and loved it, as I did The Corrections, so I thought I'd go to Franzen's literary beginnings. I found it a relief in that it proved to me that Franzen, while undeniably a genius, still had to start from somewhere. I also found the book unreadable. I did not get very far.

Now, a year later, I have given it another go. It was much more enjoyable this time around, although, 'enjoyable'...more
Matt Champagne
I love his writing, but I don’t care for this story at all. I can’t stand the plot. It’s so freakin’ boring. What’s the plot? Kinda can’t remember. An Indian woman becomes the chief of police in St. Louis and tries to take over the city. Is that it? I hope that’s accurate. I don’t know. There are seriously like thirty characters in this book and I’m only into, like, four of them. The rest, when they turn up, I’m always all: “Who are you again? And what race are you again?” I’ll be honest: I don’...more
Adam Levin
This lengthy novel centers on the career of S. Jammu, the Indian-American police chief of St. Louis, MO, who sets out to improve the city through the use of horrific violence and espionage. The first thing that comes to mind is that this novel isn't as captivating as Franzen's later and more famous work "Freedom". While "Freedom"'s entire cast of characters are nuanced and interesting, "The Twenty-Seventh City" only comes up with a few ones on par with the Berglunds of "Freedom": Jammu herself,...more
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Jonathan Franzen is the author of The Corrections, winner of the 2001 National Book Award for fiction; the novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion; and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by FSG. His fourth novel, Freedom, was published in the fall of 2010.

Franzen's other honors include a 1988 Whiting Writers' Award, Granta's Best Of Young Ameri...more
More about Jonathan Franzen...
Freedom The Corrections How to Be Alone The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History Strong Motion

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“The guiding principle of Martin’s personality, the sum of his interior existence, was the desire to be left alone. If all those years he’d sought attention, even novelty, and if he still relished them, then that was because attention proved him different and solitude begins in difference.” 3 likes
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