Strong Motion: A Novel

Strong Motion: A Novel

by Jonathan Franzen

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312420512
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 09/08/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 484,822
Product dimensions: 5.51(w) x 8.26(h) x 1.03(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Franzen is the author of three novels: The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion. He has been named one of the Granta 20 Best Novelists under 40 and is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and Harper's.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Western Springs, Illinois


B.A., Swarthmore College, 1981; studied as a Fulbright scholar at Freie Universität in Berlin

Read an Excerpt

Strong Motion

By Jonathan Franzen

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1992 Jonathan Franzen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-312-42051-X

Chapter One

Sometimes when people asked Eileen Holland if she had any brothers or sisters, she had to think for a moment.

In grade school she and her friends had played foursquare during recess, and when fights broke out in far corners of the playground, it usually turned out that the person whose face was being smashed into the blacktop was her younger brother, Louis. She and her friends would continue to bounce their ball from square to square. They were skipping rope the day Louis fought a boy on the top tier of the old tetanus-infested jungle gym and damaged a different part of himself on each of the pipes he hit during his fall, breaking off his front teeth on level three, bruising his ribs on level two, getting a concussion by impact and whiplash on level one, and stunning his diaphragm on the asphalt. Eileen's friends ran to look at the possibly dead boy. She was left holding the jump rope and feeling as if she'd fallen and no one would help her.

Eileen was a faithful and pretty image of her mother, with astonished dark eyes and pencil-thin eyebrows, a high forehead and plump cheeks and straight dark hair. She had the limbs of a willow tree and sometimes she even swayed like one, with her eyes closed, when she was so happy to be among her friends that she forgot they were there.

Louis, like his father, was less ornamental. From the age of ten onward he wore aviator-style glasses whose metal frames vaguely matched his hair, which was curly and the color of old brass screws, and was thinning by the time he finished high school. His father had also donated a barrel chest to his genetics. In junior high and high school new friends of Eileen's expected to be told, "No, no relation," when they asked her if Louis Holland was her brother. To Eileen these questions were like vaccination shots. The soothing alcohol swab that followed was her friends' avowal that her brother was not like her at all.

"Yeah," she'd agree, "we're real different."

The young Hollands grew up in Evanston, Illinois, in the shadow of Northwestern University, which employed their father as a history professor. Once in a while, in the afternoon, Eileen caught sight of Louis in a booth at McDonald's surrounded by the misfits he hung out with, their snide menu selections, their cigarettes and pasty faces and military clothing. The negativity emanating from his booth made her feel like she couldn't wedge herself tightly enough between the elbows of her peers. She was, she told herself, very different from Louis. But she was never entirely safe from him. Even in the middle of a jammed and laughing back seat she would glance out a window just in time to see her brother striding along the trashy shoulder of some six-lane suburban thoroughfare, his white shirt gray with sweat, his glasses white with road glare. It always seemed that he was there for her alone to see, an apparition from that parallel private world which she herself had stopped living in when she started having friends but which Louis still obviously inhabited: the world where you were by yourself.

One day in the summer before she started college she suddenly needed to use the family car to see her boyfriend Judd, who lived farther up the Lake Michigan shore in Lake Forest. When Louis pointed out that he'd reserved the car a week earlier, she became furious with him, the way a person gets with an inanimate object that she keeps dropping and mishandling. Finally she made her mother go ask Louis to be selfless, just this once, and let her use the car to visit her boyfriend. When she got to Judd's house she was still so furious that she left the keys in the ignition. The car was promptly stolen.

The Lake Forest police were not particularly nice to her. Her mother was even less nice, on the telephone. And Louis, when she finally got home, came down the stairs in a diver's mask.

"Eileen," her mother said. "Honey. You let the car roll in the lake. Nobody stole the car. I just got a call from Mrs. Wolstetter. You didn't set the emergency brake and you didn't put the car in Park. It rolled across the Wolstetters' lawn into the lake."

"Park, Eileen?" Louis's voice was glassed-in and adenoidal. "The little 'P' on the far left? N for Neutral? P for Park?"

"Louis," their mother said.

"Or is it N for No and P for ... Proceed? D for Desist?"

After this trauma Eileen could no longer retain information about where Louis was or what he was doing. She knew he went to school in Houston and was majoring in something like electrical engineering, but when her mother alluded to him on the telephone, perhaps to mention that he'd changed his major, the room Eileen was calling from suddenly got noisy. She couldn't remember what her mother had just said. She had to ask, "So he's majoring in - what now?" And the room got noisy again! She couldn't remember what her mother was saying even as she said it! And so she never did figure out what Louis was majoring in. When she saw him during Christmas vacation of her second year of graduate school - she was getting her MBA from Harvard - she had to make a wild guess about what he'd been doing since he graduated from Rice: "Mom tells me you're, like, designing microchips?"

He stared at her.

She shook her head no no no no, cancel that. "Tell me what you're doing," she said humbly.

"I'm staring at you in amazement."

Later her mother told her he was working for an FM radio station in Houston.

Eileen lived near Central Square in Cambridge. Her apartment was on the eighth floor of a modern high-rise, a tower of concrete that loomed above the ambient brick and clapboard like a thing that had failed to erode, with shops and a fish restaurant in the basement. She was at home making triple-fudge brownies one night at the end of March when Louis, whom she'd last seen reading a crime novel by the Christmas tree in Evanston, called her up and informed her that he'd moved from Houston to the town of Somerville, Cambridge's budget-class neighbor to the north. She asked what had brought him to Somerville. Microchips, he said.

The person who walked into her apartment a few days later, on a raw late-winter night, was effectively a stranger. At twenty-three, Louis was nearly bald on top, with just enough curls remaining to have captured sleet. His crude black oxfords squeaked on Eileen's linoleum as he walked around her kitchen in a star-shaped path, slowly ricocheting off the counters. His cheeks and nose were red and his glasses were white with fog.

"This is so contemporary," he said, meaning the apartment.

Eileen pressed her elbows to her sides and crossed her wrists on her chest. She had all four stove burners going full blast and a pot simmering on one of them. "Can't keep it warm enough," she said. She was wearing a bulky sweater, fluffy slippers, and a mini-skirt. "I think they turn the furnace off on April first."

Her doorbell rang. She buzzed. "It's Peter," she said.


"My boyfriend."

Soon there was a knock on the door, and she led the boyfriend, Peter Stoorhuys, into the kitchen. Peter's lips were blue with cola, and his skin, which was suntanned, was a leaden gray. He hopped up and down, his hands in the pockets of his twills, while Eileen made introductions that he was evidently too frozen to pay attention to. "Shit," he said, crouching by the stove. "It's cold out there."

There was a tiredness to Peter's face that no suntan could conceal. It was one of those urban faces that had been reconceived so many times that the skin, like a piece of paper smudged and abraded by multiple erasures, had lost its capacity to hold a clear image. Beneath the shadings of his current neo-Angeleno look were visible traces of a yuppie, a punk, a preppie, and a head. Repeated changes of style, like too much combing, had sapped his long blond hair of its resilience. For weather protection he was wearing a houndstooth jacket and a collarless shirt.

"Peter and I were in St. Kitts last month," Eileen explained to Louis. "We still haven't readjusted."

Peter put his white-knuckled hands over two burners on the stove and toasted them, investing this warming process with such importance that there was little Eileen and Louis could do but look at him.

"He looks like a total sillybird in hats," Eileen said.

"I find coats useful in this regard," Louis said, dropping his fiberfill jacket in a corner. He was dressed in his uniform of the last eight years, a white shirt and black jeans.

"You see, that's the thing," Eileen said. "His favorite coat is at the cleaner's. Is that a silly place for it to be?"

It was another five minutes before Peter was thawed enough to allow them all to retire to the living room. Eileen curled up on the sofa, pulling the hem of her sweater down over her bare knees and draping one arm over the back of the sofa just in time to receive the glass of whiskey Peter had poured her. Louis paced around the room, stopping to bring his face myopically close to books and other consumer goods. All of the apartment's furnishings were new and most were combinations of white planes, black cylinders, and cherry-red plastic hardware.

"So, Louis," Peter said, joining Eileen with a whiskey. "Tell us a little about yourself."

Louis was examining the VCR's remote-control box. In the big steamed windows the distant lights of Harvard Square formed halos the color of mother-of-pearl.

"You're in communications," Peter prompted.

"I work for a radio station," Louis said in a very slow and very level voice. "It's called WSNE ...? News with a Twist ...?"

"Sure," Peter said. "I'm familiar with it. Not that I ever listen, but I've dealt with them a couple times. In fact I understand they're in some doo-doo, financially. Not to say that's not the norm for a thousand-watt station. One thing I'd suggest is try to get paid at the end of every week, and whatever you do don't let 'em involve you in any kind of ownership scheme -."

"Oh I won't," Louis said, so earnestly it would have made an observant person wary.

"I mean, go ahead if you want." Peter continued. "But, uh - a word to the wise."

"Peter sells ad space for Boston magazine," Eileen said.

"Among other things." Peter said.

"He's thinking of applying to the business school in the fall. Not that he hardly even needs to. He knows so much stuff, Louis. He knows tons more than I do."

"Do you know how to listen?" Louis said suddenly.


Excerpted from Strong Motion by Jonathan Franzen Copyright © 1992 by Jonathan Franzen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


I Default Gender,
II I [??] Life,
III Argilla Road,
IV In the Black,

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Strong Motion 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read everything by Jonathan Franzen and just about everything about him, and this is the best novel he's written. The love story between these two keeps you turning the pages as Franzen sweeps you away with his killer writing style. Days will pass when nothing but the images of this book will cross your mind. Franzen has the ability to take us away, and in the process, show us where we were and where we might be going. This isn't a good love story, it's far far better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was just well put together with believable characters. He hasn't failed me on this my third of stories
Jennifyr on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Not my favorite of Franzen's writing, and a little tough to get through at slower parts. I did enjoy the characters though, and it was worthwhile to read through to the end.
nivramkoorb on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Franzen touches on many subjects in this novel. As with his other novels, the characters are not very likable but hey that's real life. The plot was very creative and it allowed me to feel a sense of a "who done it" which I appreciated. It was interesting in reading a book from 20 years ago and realizing how up to date the themes were. Franzen does a good job of making social commentary and dealing with the negativity of big business. His themes resonate very strongly when you think about BP and the gulf spill. Having now read his 4 novels , I am convinced he is one of our best writers. Although I meet many people that you do not like his books, it is usually because they do not like the characters. So you cannot question his writing skill but you can question the likability of his characters. I just hope that he doesn't make us wait another 7-8 years for another novel.
trentsky on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Franzen certainly has a way with words and there are many passages of beautiful writing in the pages of this book. This story at times felt a little forced, although it kept me interested to the end. One particularly engaging chapter that really grabbed me was at first blush totally and completely detached from the entire story. I was enthralled with this isolated short story told from the perspective of a raccoon. It was fairly obvious the raccoon and his relationships were supposed to mirror the life of the character Louis. Seemingly completely out of left field, this little story was so well written I almost cried. The other 98% of the book was worth reading, too, but if you're looking to read your first Franzen work I'd recommend starting with The Corrections.
mattviews on LibraryThing 11 months ago
STRONG MOTION begins with a plausible impression of a family dispute over an unexpected inheritance. After spending years in Houston for college, Louis Holland, at age 23, moves to Boston and works for a radio station that devotes to arts and literature and excludes politics: an operating direction that is conducive to its struggling audience rating. The grim prospect of the station puts him at life's crossroad but confirms his modest approach to life: that he has been content with his life and its conditions. A person who accustoms to what he is, Louis learns to hold in somewhat lower esteem (and expectations) all other ways of being so as not to spend life envying and grieving over them. The death of a step-grandmother whom Louis neither meets nor hears of causes an eddy within his family and tears apart the tacit understanding that allows the father, mother, daughter, and son to be polite to each other in public. Rita Damiano Kernaghan had appropriated all of Louis's grandfather's assets and forged a title to the family mansion to borrow money on. She archived the distinction of being the only victim of the first of a series of unusual earthquakes that rock the Boston area. She had been found dead tumbling off a bar stool. As Louis's mother inherits the 22 million dollars that Rita had left behind, and cajoles the family to put behind the monetary matter until the unfortunate situation has faded, not to his surprise, his spoiled sister has already tried to tap their mother's new resources. It seems like once and for all, Eileen has always, with her incorrigible avarice and punctilious calculation, beaten him to their mother's money. Through all the years he has learned to forgive and become indifferent to all the injustice to which he has been subjected. In tears and anger he outpours his pent-up bitterness to his father, who affords such high regard for his son's independent spirit and husbandry. He is utterly exasperated at being accused of materialism, which he thinks has taken a tight grip on his sister. STRONG MOTION wittily branches out, in a perfect pacing synchronizing events developing within the family and the outside world, to accommodate more threads away from the family. As the family feud over favoritism and inheritance runs red-hot, Louis falls in love with Renee Seitchek, a conscientious and bright seismologist who probes the cause of the unusual earthquakes and feels the scruple of being unable to prevent them. Seitchek's discoveries complicate everything and ensue life-threatening danger. In a random TV appearance, she also provokes pro-lifers and anti-abortionists and members of a local church whose building the state condemns as being seismically unsafe. What originally begins as a family grudge accommodates into it unusual seismicity, chemical spill, corporate scandal, abortion issue, and a love story. STRONG MOTION is no more intriguing a novel than truthful a social commentary of an ailing society. As Renee Seitchek traces to the horrible root of the earthquakes, whatever the cause must be, STRONG MOTION addresses the razor-thin line between human responsibility and the responsibility of mother nature. In other words, how can one believe in responsibility and how does one gauge responsibility if responsibility has limits? The novel also silently jeers at the way media rub the public's face the notion that they now live in a special time. It snaps at the sickening proliferation of identical newspaper articles running identical interviews with survivors who said it was scary and identical statements from scientists who were equivocal about the true cause of the tremor. The novel, finally, makes light of the preposterous lawsuits with which people who fail to take the responsibility for their lives and blameshift on others in order to ease their transitions to normalcy. The book demonstrates how fiction can bridge the gap between journalism and social commentary with a touch of humor and malice.
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The writing is increrdible but not everyone will like the book.
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Ok! I got dips on res five! Ill be the Advice giver for the peeps that are unsure whether a guy/girl likes them!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Someone needs to advertise.