To no one’s surprise, Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Purity, was published this fall to critical acclaim and commercial success. Like his last two novels, Purity features a dysfunctional family. A young woman, Purity “Pip” Tyler, saddled with $130,000 in student debt and a reclusive, emotionally dependent mother, is trying to discover the identity of her father, whom she hopes will help her out. It’s more complicated than that, of course. The novel actually features three dysfunctional families whose fates are implausibly intertwined. Franzen’s tale, as you might expect, is freighted with social commentary.
In The Pentagon’s Brain, Annie Jacobsen takes us inside the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA. Based in a non-descript building in Arlington, Virginia, and with an annual budget of around $3 billion, DARPA is responsible for cutting edge research and development projects for the Department of Defense.
Though there have been numerous multi-volume biographies of Winston Churchill, and whole libraries written about aspects of his career, the lens has much less frequently been focused on his wife, Clementine, despite her great influence on her husband and involvement in his political career.
Sonia Purnell, the author of the new biography on Mrs. Churchill, Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, points out the strangeness of her subject matter’s neglect, given the unique role that Clementine played in British government.
Toward the end of Thomas Mallon’s Finale, Nancy Reagan, standing alone beneath a star-filled sky in the California desert, muses that “she didn’t know who [Ronald Reagan] was, and she never had.” The real-life Nancy once wrote something similar: “Although he loves people, [Ronald] often seems remote, and he doesn’t let anybody get too close. There’s a wall around him. He lets me come closer than anyone else, but there are times when even I feel that barrier.”
The former first lady wasn’t alone in this observation. It has become so commonplace in accounts of the man’s life that it now threatens to detract from a clear understanding of Reagan’s achievement. Now, if journalists and historians can’t successfully reveal the inner Reagan, what better tool than the historical novel?