Four days left in New York City. Sunset: 4:28pm with highs around 50, and the weather has been distressingly warm while we put our things into boxes. 

Last night I finished Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads, and even as I turned the final page, I was amazed I was reading it at all. Franzen has become an unfashionable writer for reasons I no longer remember. My opinion of him is nonexistent; I’ve only read him in bits and pieces. He writes realistic novels that mirror our world, whereas I prefer fiction that takes me somewhere new. But late one night, I came across a series of reviews in which the fashionable critics seemed to be writing with gritted teeth: yes, Franzen is pompous and says punchable things, but his new book is very very good.

And so, in a reckless post-midnight mood, I decided I should read something that inspired such begrudging praise. I pressed the pre-order button and forgot all about it until, three weeks later, a six-hundred-page slab appeared, and I wondered why on earth I ordered up a saga about a Midwestern minister’s family in 1973. Crossroads sat on my table for several weeks, taunting me for making impulsive purchases. Finally, I cracked it open to confirm my poor decision and that I could gift it to someone else. Then I was on page 100.

The writer Elisa Gabbert posted, “Still reading a little Franzen every night the way people used to read the Bible.” This captures the appeal of Crossroads perfectly. Reading it became liturgical. Each day I found myself looking forward to bedtime, when I could spend an hour or two with this broken yet hopeful family, each member lost in their private dramas and desires. There’s no flash or flourish in Franzen’s writing, just clean sentence after clean sentence that conjures a cozy, richly detailed world of people falling in and out of faith—and sanity. A fair chunk of it takes place just before Christmas, back when it used to snow, so it’s an ideal holiday read.