Strong Motion: A Novel


The critically acclaimed second novel from the author of ‘The Corrections‘. ‘Strong Motion’ is the brilliant, bold second novel from the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of ‘The Corrections’ and ‘Freedom’. Louis Holland arrives in Boston in a spring of strange happenings – earthquakes strike the city, and the first one kills his grandmother. During a bitter feud over the inheritance Louis falls in love with Renee Seitchek, a passionate and brilliant seismologist, whose discoveries about the origin of the earthquakes complicate everything. Potent and vivid, ‘Strong Motion’ is a complex story of change from the forceful imagination of Jonathan Franzen.

From Publishers Weekly

Louis Holland’s father is a bemused left-wing historian, his mother a frustrated social-climber; his sister Eileen is a woman of picturesque self-absorption who takes off for business school in Boston. Louis, bespectacled, bland and prematurely balding, is a radio buff. A series of unrelated events–the mother’s inheritance of $22 million, Louis’s landing a radio job in Boston, among others–brings this commonplace, unhappy family together at the center of myriad transformations. “Strong motion” refers to the ground-shaking of earthquakes; mysteriously, Boston is being racked by them. As it turns out, the inherited money is tied up in a company that Louis’s girlfriend Renee, a seismologist, suspects is causing the disturbances by injecting toxic waste into wells. In an accidental but fateful confrontation, Renee makes derogatory comments about an anti-abortion group’s leader. The interweaving of women’s reproductive rights issues with environmental disaster places the author (as well as the characters) on shaky ground. Such complicated themes, sounded against the backdrop of a lightly sketched Boston, seem poorly served by having one family heroically sort them out. After the stunning perfections of Franzen’s first novel ( The Twenty-Seventh City ), this second effort is a paler achievement. Though his descriptive gifts are still in evidence, the plot becomes an all-too-obvious untying of a highly improbable knot.

From Library Journal

An earthquake that 23-year-old Louis Holland doesn’t even feel shakes the Boston area and sets in motion a chain of events in this multilayered, metaphor-studded novel with a love story at its core. After Louis’s step-grandmother is the quake’s only fatality, his mother inherits millions in stock of chemical company Sweeting-Aldren, and Louis meets seismologist Renee Seitchek, who shares her bed and her theory with him. When tremors continue in the Northeast, scientists study fault lines, a fundamentalist anti-abortion minister credits God’s wrath, and Renee suggests “induced seismicity” from Sweeting-Aldren’s longtime secret pumping of industrial wastes into a deep well. Franzen ( The Twenty-Seventh City , LJ 11/1/88) may push an occasional metaphor too far, but distractions fade in the face of fine characterizations in a context of science grounded in history with well-integrated social messages and a subtext of the Boston Red Sox breaking fans’ hearts. Impressive. — Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.