PDF | This essay explores the relationship between happiness and the American liberal project as it features in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. caite.info for samples and additional information. Order a reprint of this article now. FREEDOM. By Jonathan Franzen. pages. most recent novels, The Corrections and Freedom, and I compare the two in an . Jonathan Franzen's latest novel, Freedom, which was published just last year.
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Freedom. Jonathan Franzen. ISBN: / pages. Nearly a decade after the publication of his award-winning novel The Corrections. Editorial Reviews. caite.info Review. Amazon Best of the Month, August : "The awful Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) - Kindle edition by Jonathan Franzen. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or. How might we understand Jonathan Franzen's Freedom () as a post-9/11 novel, Freedom implies that, as Franzen puts the matter elsewhere,. 'the worse .
On the other hand, many novels would look like soap operas if read at the speed of light. But,… and here's the twist ,… that actually sounded like a selling point to me. Franzen cannot be blamed for the extraordinary hype that it has generated, and it shouldn't be held against him. So is it War and Peace? It's too steeped in the mundane, everyday reality of realism, naturally enough. Without all the male masturbation and the obviously male author, this could've so easily been written off as chick lit. While they all suffered various tragedies, I found myself constantly rooting for the fickle forces of nature that would lead to further misery for them.
View all 43 comments. Jun 30, Ben rated it did not like it.
Here's the thing about this book: I was really expecting to enjoy it. I say that for two reasons. The first is The Corrections. Not the book itself, which is still quietly residing on my shelf, waiting for its day in the sun… Nay, I speak of the buzz.
You see, I know people. And a lot of those people read things. And some of those things were their own copies of The Corrections. And the buzz was, as far as I could tell, that the people that I know liked The Corrections.
In fact, their only compl Here's the thing about this book: In fact, their only complaint seemed to be that there were no likeable characters in the book, that they all seemed petty and kind of horrible. But,… and here's the twist ,… that actually sounded like a selling point to me.
Because, I'm actually a little petty myself, I'm prone to dabble in misanthropy and, besides, who doesn't love a good antihero? The second reason that I was ready to love Freedom is that I have read a touch of Franzen in my day.
Not much, mind you. I was struck by the way the collection dealt reasonably with the complicated position of literarily minded folk in a digital age. Even if it wasn't overflowing with goodness, it certainly wouldn't be unpleasant. In short, my formal adoration of Freedom was simply a forgone conclusion, an eventuality waiting to transpire.
Oh, me. Let me break off a little truth for you. I hated reading this book. The thing that's frustrating about it is that there is no one quality that makes it bad. The characters are unlikeable, but not in a devil-may-care, what-will-they-do-next kind of way. The characters are odious because they are self-absorbed and petty… but more than that, they're insufferably boring.
It's not that they don't wander around hurting each other; it's that their sins are largely those of inaction or inertia; that they sit around and complain to themselves and moan on about their disappointments, and you find yourself relieved when they actually take action of some kind, no matter what it is, simply because it means something is happening in the book, that you are reading a novel wherein events happen that have significance. And you quickly find that you not only start to wish the characters thorough unhappiness, but further, you actually long for some kind horrible nuclear disaster to clear the slate so that Franzen can just start over with an entirely new cast midway through the novel.
The truth is that I tried really, really hard to hold out hope for the novel. The point of no return for me was right around when the author intimates that everyone secretly enjoys the smell of their own flatulence. I came to resent the very existence of the world in which the characters existed. It made me wish the Genesis had never happened, that God had refrained from rendering form out of the formless at all.
I would rather read Jonathon Franzen's descriptions of the void than another wretched moment in the lives of these abysmal characters. View all 40 comments. Sep 11, Jessica rated it liked it Recommends it for: Recommended to Jessica by: Now, I've always felt a bit annoyed and repelled by the lazy shorthand of race there, then ashamed when I use it myself -- since really the demographic group in question is, like the crowd at the bandshell, not exclusively white, and since there are millions of white people whom it does not describe -- but the concept's too pricelessly apt to resist frequent citing.
The brilliance of Stuff White People Like is in its identification of a socioeconomic group which is, yes, largely white, but more to the point Obama-voting, liberal arts degree-holding, farmers market-shopping, NPR-listening, irony-appreciating, New Yorker -subscribing, boutique cable show-watching, indie-rock-listening, Clash tee-shirt-wearing baby-rearing, freelance-or-nonprofit-job-working, and neighborhood-gentrifying, but also profoundly self-loathing in a weird and specific way that is a bit hard either to detach from or reconcile with its incredible self-absorption and uncomfortable, only partly ironic smugness and conviction that the stuff it likes is good.
We don't want to like Franzen, because we're supposed to, and that contrarian streak is built into our bones. And to add to all that, Franzen writes about -- and nails -- our very essence. I can't think of another book that so perfectly sums up and explores the attributes and complexities of this particular set.
Okay, enough with all this generalization: Well okay, the first pages was the most fun I've had in years. And I did really like Freedom , and wish I could give it three-point-five stars. My criterion for the fourth star is that I itch to read it, and I itched like crazy while reading it. Yeah, this book was good. A confession: If you live in this city -- and perhaps even more likely if you don't, but have visited -- there's a fair chance I've harmed you physically while I ran for the train.
Sorry, but you probably don't walk fast enough, and I was trying to get to the platform. Understand that I am in a great hurry to arrive in short order wherever I'm going, which is somewhat inexplicable since once I'm there I don't have much to do, and will probably just sit there, dicking around on the Internet; but while I'm en route, I'm a terror, and slow old ladies be damned!
I'll hit them with my umbrella! I'll give them all flat tires! But while reading Freedom the number of citywide subway station stair assaults must have dropped; I was in no particular hurry to get where I was headed, and often took the local train or waited for the next less-crowded car.
I took crosstown buses where normally I motor on foot, and rode elevators instead of my usual mad running up the stairs. Over the past week, I honestly looked forward to my commute, and to deadtime at work waiting in a courtroom, because these moments gave me another opportunity to read.
This is one of two of the most important tests of a book: The other test, though, Freedom didn't really pass. I did vastly enjoy a lot of this book, but it didn't give me the more rare and elusive experience that's the other main thing that I want when I'm reading.
I didn't ultimately feel moved, not emotionally or ontologically. I didn't see the world, or my life, in an earthshaking new way I did start wondering briefly about how my parents might've fucked me up, but not in a fruitful way, so I don't think that counts.
And while I did definitely like it, and got involved with the characters, by the end I felt disappointed, and also pretty bored. Sorry, this is already pretty long and not much of a review. Let's see, Freedom is a novel about a family, the Berglunds, and if you want to read a good review of it, I defer to Mike Reynolds. I myself was instantly hooked from the beginning chapter, which is a description of the family from the perspective of the community where they live, and I loved -- loved -- the next portion, an "autobiography" wonderfully titled "Mistakes Were Made" by the wife, Patty Berglund, which takes us up to page But I'm afraid that for me, things did peak there, and I'm a bit baffled by all the buzz about "greatest living American writer" and "genius.
But it wasn't that great. So but like, I really don't follow these things, but full disclosure, I couldn't free myself while reading from thoughts about the Author, and I really don't think that this was just me.
Other reviews on this site have noted that the characters are all a lot the same, but I don't really see that as a problem, and that's kind of what I liked about it. For me, the only character that never really came off was daughter Jessica, which I maybe took too personally, as that is my name I did like the part where Jessica agonizes over the impossibility of finding a decent New York guy to go out with, though I liked it more in the abstract, and wanted its execution to be more amazing.
I felt a bit shortchanged when it came to the son's relationship with his lady; there were all the seeds to be sown, and then we just stopped hearing about them. But my point partly, with the Franzenness, was that the two parents did feel very real, maybe the more so for seeming like two only slightly varying manifestations of the same certain guy.
Here's my beef about Jonathan Franzen, and I know I should do some more google research before I start on with this, but I'm feeling kind of lazy, and I doubt anyone's still reading this See, I associate him, like a lot of people, with that Oprah thing in the nineties, when he withdrew from being in the Oprah bookclub, got lots of shit, and as a result maybe became wildly popular.
Franzen's Wikipedia article has a quotation from him at that time, in which he explains that he didn't want people thinking The Corrections was a women's book by "people" I mean men, of course and therefore not reading it. Now again, I'm only dimly aware of what's been going on recently, but I've heard lady authors are bitching like we do about all the press and blowjobs Franzen's been getting, and suggesting that this is really all because of that Y-chromosome he has.
And honestly, I was distracted while reading this by my conviction that it's true. I don't want to plagiarize, though I can't remember who said it, but some upset woman I read at some point was complaining about the "chick lit" ghetto and said that Franzen writes what are essentially domestic novels, and that if he weren't a man they'd be considered women's fiction.
And that, friend, is true. It is painfully true. Especially the better, earlier, female-perspectived portion of this novel is all about relationships and a marriage and family, and all those lady things.
And if Jonathan were Jessica Franzen, at least half the readers he has except Mike Reynolds, boy wonder, who actually reads stuff by chicks! Yeah, actually I do really think that.
Without all the male masturbation and the obviously male author, this could've so easily been written off as chick lit.
And it makes me -- perhaps unjustly -- hate Jonathan Franzen to think that he might not recognize that. It might not seem this way, but I'm not one of those people who carries on endlessly about WhiteMalePrivilege, but I actually do want to with him.
Because he gets the kind of attention that similarly talented women wouldn't get, while writing about topics that aren't considered Serious when women write about them. Okay, I'm sorry, I'm rambling again really bad day at work, srsly, sorry. This book, hm, well what more can I say? Franzen is a terrific writer, and I loved the addictive easiness of his prose style, which can unfortunately come back and bite an author because it makes any glitch seem egregious.
I hated the partial sentences that seemed to creep in more as the novel progressed, though I might not have noticed them if his writing weren't otherwise so perfect. He writes sentences as readable as the most digestible best-seller, but good. The problem is that being that good makes people angrier if you let them down. Especially if those people are me, and apply ridiculously high standards to anything they have great hopes for, while giving tons of social work sympathy to the obvious losers.
You guys should hope that I never have children! I'll criticize and neglect the good kid, while coddling the fuck-up.
Okay, I did feel let down by this book; again, I really liked it. But by the end I felt bored by the characters, especially by depression which is deadly boring; note my biases, as a reader who was unable to make it all the way through David Foster Wallace's short story "The Depressed Person" despite thinking it brilliant , and I really thought the plot and characters ran off the road at later points into melodrama. At a certain early juncture I felt sure our Berglunds' marriage would survive, though I wasn't sure I cared that it did, or what that had to do with me.
But don't get me wrong! This was a very fine novel. Frazen's ability to create characters is wonderful, and the whole thing's pretty zeitgeisty, which is nice in this dying form. No, sorry Jonathan: But in its mostly successful efforts to link the narcissistic and eerily familiar concerns of individuals to the larger events and forces of our time, it is a lot closer than anything recent I can think of.
Best of all, now I have something to fall back on, the next time I'm at a Brooklyn party and the White People are all talking about True Blood. View all 29 comments.
Sep 29, Paul Bryant rated it liked it Shelves: This book hoovers you into its world from the first page and before you know what's what you've missed your bus stop and you are into it. But there are problems. I will tell you about some of them. You would expect no less of me. The bubbles became suds — undeniable suds. I could not divest This book hoovers you into its world from the first page and before you know what's what you've missed your bus stop and you are into it.
I could not divest myself of the realisation that things were getting soapier by the minute — no, I said, to any passing stranger who I could get to take an interest in the current state of literature, this is Jonathan Franzen messing with our heads, taunting us with the cardboardy and the cutouty.
This is not to be taken completely seriously. His sultry pouting unshaven lips launch a thousand bustling teenage hips and one glance from his stubbly unshaven pouting guitar causes the female heart to bound about like an escaping baboon, and indeed such is his popularity that he can hardly write his tuneful songs of ten minute angst for having to shoo flocks of sweet 18 year olds gently away from his private parts.
This character is played straight. We are to take this character seriously and we are not to laugh. I gradually became aware of this as the character Richard Katz did not go away.
And oh my goodness gracious me, there is some horrible writing that bubbles up whenever he is centre stage. Richard is — yes, you get the picture! These groinal heatings were no more about literal sex, no more homo, than the hard-ons he got from a long-anticipated first snort of blow.
Richard Katz describing a woman: A solid B-plus that could be an A-minus if she would work for extra credit.
It got so I was playing the game of spotting titles of old songs amidst the soap. Okay, what's good about Freedom? Ha ha, what an ironical question.
This book gets most of its points for trying really really hard. That part of the whole thing I liked. But oh — phrases like His thing with Connie was too intense and strange — too sincere, too muddled with love- to be fungible as coin of bragging. It was like coke cut heavily with nasty meth. Is this a simile JF thinks will ring bells with his readers?
But then how does this translate its meaning to the non coke-cut-heavily-with-nasty-meth-hoovering reader? It translates as: It was really quite unpleasant or I assume so. Anyway - pretty ghastly. On occasion Franzen goes into page long riffs on such things as road rage or the stupid things that teenagers do - these are exactly like riffs in a stand up comedian's routine.
No, the Frug. No, I mean that Body Pop thing. And - this book is built out of sturdy slabs of knowingness and social nuance. Well, do your homework then. I want active engaged readers.
Yeah, I know, sorry and all. But I did finish your damned big book. So, you know, be quiet. View all 45 comments. Jul 29, Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it liked it Shelves: After reading Wuthering Heights , I had this idea: I should make a bookshelf called "Assholes and Asshats," a little place that could serve as a warning to people who immediately disregard books containing characters they have trouble relating to and sympathizing with.
You know, jerks, dickwads, the stoney cold and self-involved, the pompously mean and rich or bitterly poor and junk-addled characters loitering about within the pages of many harder-to-swallow books. Personally, I have both experienced a lot of shittiness in life and inflicted it on others, so I find it important and enlightening to read about just how much people of which I am one can and often do royally suck to and about one another.
I don't need a likable lead in order to power through a book, and I in fact very often desire just the opposite. And Freedom is mostly not a nice tale. It is, rather, almost pages about assholes and asshats being assholes and asshats to each other to varying degrees over a long period of time.
It is not a tale for happy housewives, no matter what Oprah Winfrey said about it. Freedom teeters for me: I offer it a respectful four stars, but as I distance myself from it, I can already see it wobbling near the edge about to drop back into the 3-star realm.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the book. It is not sloggy at all; the little time it takes to breeze through this thing seems almost unfair to the actual physical bulk of the text. I never found myself bored or bogged down, and I felt invested in the outcome of the story to the very last page.
I think a lot of what helped keep up the pace was the fact that the story was told from the viewpoint of several different narrators, all interconnected, providing shifts in style and perspective which made for a more rounded out experience of the events, and a deeper understanding of the individual players in this drama their motives, needs, baggage, etc.
They seemed almost Flat in a lot of ways, despite the time and effort put into rounding them out? I know a lot of people may disagree with me about this, but hear me out if you would be so kind. Here is a brief description of each of the main characters: Sweet, ideological, overachieving, good friend, good husband, good citizen, liberal, book-smart, giving, loving, naive, nature-preserving Walter The She-Beast.
Selfish, underachieving, shitty wife, shitty mother, vortex of negativity and self-pity, wine-sluggin', two-timin', emotional breakdown-havin', bi-polar Patty. She is the thorn in many a side, and is presumably only happy when playing basketball, interacting with her Mirror Image With a Penis of a son, booze-binging till a purge, or engaging in torrid sexual encounters with some Shitty Friend Generic Rock Star Stud.
Oh, this one's my favorite. Here's a guy in a band who likes to sleep with his much younger fans surprise! Aside from, of course, the sex-aaaay seXXX level, since all musicians are spectacular in bed Didn't you know that?
There is a bit of depth hidden within Richard's brotherly love for Walter and distant longing for Walter and Patty's "normal life," but even these somewhat numb feelings are Simply put, you have for the most part heard it all before in any random teen movie.
Child Unit 1: Patty With A Penis aka Joey: All the traits of Patty, only politically conservative, money hungry, and penis-having. Child Unit 2: Walter With A Vag aka Jessica: Most of the traits of Walter, with far, far less character development than basically anyone else in the book.
She is about as important to this story and the family within it, as prized, as a 2nd or 3rd born girl-child in China. The Inspirational Doormat: The neighbor girl. She teaches young women that if you blindly love someone, tailor all your life decisions around him and his whims, deal with him ignoring you for months at a time, cheating on you repeatedly, and generally treating you like shit, and then you apologize profusely for bothering him by mentioning any of it, things may work out for you after all.
If you really start feeling isolated and pathetic, just sleep around and then call him to tell him all about it: Work it, girl! I have typed a lot of words here, but I have mostly focused on what pissed me off and ignored what I appreciated about this novel.
There are other characters of notable importance that I have failed to mention, and there is generally more to the ones that I have brought up. However, the basic shells still stand, and they feel redundant. You have seen this film a dozen times, you know how the drama plays out, and yet Franzen is rich with the gifts of both believable dialogue and perfect pacing, so he somehow manages to pull it all together into an engaging story. You feel for most of the characters, no matter how much you may dislike them.
I guess the other thing about the novel that really got to me was this twist on the above characters: Unlike most storybook characters who see their own motivations as pure and good, yet come to find themselves shocked by their own bad behavior, Franzen's characters fully dissect and execute their plans of being horrible to one another in advance, and come to find themselves instead shocked by their inherent goodness.
They seem surprised that they even give a shit about each other and the world around them. I know people often trick and misread themselves leading to much mistake-making, but do people actually analyze themselves as much as Franzen's characters do and consider the awful shit they pull so thoroughly beforehand only to find in the end that they didn't really know anything about themselves and actually just really, really lurrrrrve each other?
Sorry to complain so much. Again, I did enjoy this book. You probably will, too. Just be forewarned that there are a lot of predictably soapy scenes coming from a lot of predictably soapy characters, they are often mean as shit to one another, and their heads are for the most part buried deeply within their behinds: Oh, one more thing: I waited so long to read this guy because I mixed him up with the Jon F who wrote Everything is Illuminated , and for no good reason aside from a vague annoyance with that movie simply the idea of that book and its author got on my nerves.
I was wrong, so I gave this novel a shot. I'll probably read another Franzen. I'm too nice with these stars View all 39 comments. Oct 14, Katie rated it it was ok Shelves: Freedom is Terrible, by Katie G. Abridged for your convenience in list form Before you think I'm mean, please note that "freedom is terrible" is kind of the point of Franzen's book: Freedom doesn't get you what you want. Uninhibited, it brings a whole slew of problems along with it and, assuming you're not a slave or living in North Korea, the fact that your life is miserable is not due to a lack of freedom.
Ironically, you can also substitute the book Freedom for the word freedom above, and i Freedom is Terrible, by Katie G. Ironically, you can also substitute the book Freedom for the word freedom above, and it doesn't change the meaning of anything, which is kind of unintentionally funny on Franzen's part.
And thus, we come to my review. My Reasons for Hating This Book: It's no big secret that Franzen isn't particularly fond of humanity, but if he doesn't care about his characters, why should I? B Unnecessary storylines and characters. Cutting out Jenna and her DB Goldman boyfriend Nick, Eliza the Sociopath, and Lalitha and the Free Space population-control mission alone would have saved me from pages of non-integral reading.
I understand why Franzen created these characters and found them necessary, but if the pages of your book turn like they're covered in molasses, you don't really want the unabridged version. Books don't need to end tied up in a pretty bow, but I would still like to believe that authors sit down to write a book because they have a story to tell.
Otherwise, beginnings, ends, middles--they're all arbitrary. Even Tolstoy had a larger plan, but I'm not convinced Franzen did. D The whole thing reeked of American Beauty -esque disenfranchised yuppie-ism. Your problems are not that interesting, important or unique. As such, I contend that Freedom is terrible. View all 7 comments. Jul 17, Lyn rated it it was amazing.
Take two parts Tom Wolfe, one part Charles Dickens, stir in generous portions of current events and humor, breath over it tragedy like pouring vermouth on a very dry martini, bake in a pan of realistic humanism and you have this wonderful book called Freedom.
We get to know four generations of Berglands, from the comfortable but restraining farms of Sweden to the comfortable but restraining backwoods of Minnesota. We get to learn family dynamics and are privy to relationships that work and many Take two parts Tom Wolfe, one part Charles Dickens, stir in generous portions of current events and humor, breath over it tragedy like pouring vermouth on a very dry martini, bake in a pan of realistic humanism and you have this wonderful book called Freedom.
We get to learn family dynamics and are privy to relationships that work and many that do not. We also get to know the Emersons, the Paulsons, the Moynahans and a very archetypal musician who is at once repelled by his personified stereotype and powerless to do anything but wallow in his own self centeredness. We also get to know dozens of other characters who are as realistic portraits of true life as if they were shaken dry Polaroids.
The story is compelling, entrancing, funny, heartbreaking and thought provoking.
In Freedom, Franzen has painted a picture of our time, who we are now and how we got here. But fundamentally, it is also an illustration of hope. Because as a family is a microcosm of a society, we are very messed up, but also OK deep down; and no matter how bad it gets, Franzen offers an always accessible option of hope and reconciliation, if only we choose it.
View all 14 comments. To keep in style of the book this review will be just a lot of rambling. I mean, it was mostly a soap opera. And Franzen submitted me to bloody pages of a soap opera which I had to digest in a few sittings.
Like in all soap operas, everything ends well and love conquers all, of course some characters might have to be killed off along the way, but it seems like a small pri UPDATED. Like in all soap operas, everything ends well and love conquers all, of course some characters might have to be killed off along the way, but it seems like a small price to pay for a happy ending, non?
If it was well written, then maybe. But how can I take this sort of thing seriously: Is this the Great American Novel? Are you kidding me? Had he simply misunderstood its prophecy?
It is like my friend Maciek, who tells me a story and in the middle of it he remembers some other story that might or might not be related to the story he is telling me so he tells me that other story, and then some other story that somehow came from the second story, and then maybe he will return to the main story and you end up wondering if the second story actually happened in the middle of the first story or it was just his way of telling a story.
The final moral from this book is that we are all fucked up in our own special way but it will all be alright unless, of course, we become Republicans, in which case there will be no redemption. It almost killed me. This book almost killed me. I will admit that Patty and Walter were both interesting characters with all the supporting cast being all sorts of caricatures and serving as props to the main duo. Now, I am off to read a book about people who do things and have real problems.
And I also forgot to say that if this book was written by a woman, it would be deemed chick lit and stuck in a pastel colour cover with birds and flowers. No one would even look at it twice because there is so much better chick lit out there. But as Jonathan Franzen is lucky enough to be a man, this, all of a sudden, is the Great American Novel. Honest to God, who would take this book seriously if it was written by a woman and had something pink on the cover? View all 20 comments.
Mar 10, Steve rated it really liked it. To find every aspect average is not the same as combining extreme likes and dislikes that tally to the same net amount. His sentences flow, his words are well-chosen, and his observations of which there are many are made in an interesting way. I also liked how he alternated among his four point-of-view characters. I noticed, too, more redeeming qualities in these people compared to the dyspeptic family in his previous would-be classic, The Corrections.
In a way it was more depressing this time because for some characters, over some stretches, he actually made me care. Walter and Patty, the married couple, were every bit as inconstant and not just towards each other as they were intelligent or at least meant to be.
Generations are studied. Evolution is noted. And it is a big, sweeping book with a big, obvious theme see title. Detractors, though, may have a point when they mention how confused the politics can seem. Walter is a conservationist, but becomes a sorely compromised one.
The big theme was mentioned often and explicitly. The conclusion is easy to summarize: You can be given enough rope to hang yourself. This is true for individuals as well as societies, and his examples, either personal or political, were meant to show this. The crux of the biscuit comes in deciding where the line should be drawn.
I also felt that the characters hurt by their own freedom of choice were pretty short-sighted, even borderline stupid at times. Fortunately, some were capable of learning from their mistakes. Discovering who comes around to a new way of thinking is one of the pleasures of the book because most of them needed to. I suspect the most telling critiques recognize what the literary establishment says is at stake. Is this truly an American classic?
That gets him three and a half equivocating stars, rounded to four — well short of Great American Novel status, but worth the effort to see what all the fuss is about. View all 47 comments. Sep 02, Krok Zero rated it it was ok Shelves: I didn't like it. Review coming up faster than you can say "jismic grunting butt-oink" Would you think me a nutjob if I told you that Franzen's Freedom reads less like a novel than like an extremely articulate gossip column?
Hear me out. I admit that it can be difficult for me to appreciate the kind of undiluted realism that Franzen favors, because so much of what I value in art is tied into one form of defamiliarization or another.
Simply putting a mirror up to the world can be interest Uh-oh. Simply putting a mirror up to the world can be interesting, even enlightening, but it rarely stirs my blood or makes me feel anything beyond purely intellectual admiration. It's also true that I have no love for the drama of suburban disaffection and infidelity.
That I still kind of admired the book despite this heavily stacked deck is a testament to Franzen's writerly professionalism. When I say professionalism rather than something like brilliance I don't mean to damn him with faint praise -- well, I do, but the praise is sincere despite its faintness. Based solely on Freedom -- I never finished The Corrections , to my embarrassment -- I think Franzen is more a skilled but overreaching craftsman than the epochal artist he's being sold as, if you'll forgive a tired dichotomy.
See, just about everyone, hagiographer and agnostic alike, has noted that the book is thoroughly readable and absorbing. Franzen's craftsmanship lies in his mastery of the fundamentals -- how to structure a story, introduce a character, craft prose that speeds along with momentum, etc -- that lead to prime readability. But why is it that, each time I put the book down after being reasonably absorbed, I felt a bad taste in my mouth?
Despite his vaunted observational acumen -- which, to be honest, I found kind of blinkered and basic -- Franzen's treatment of his characters is too often tainted by he-said she-said superficiality.
This book reads like your smartest friend talking smack about your other friends. Or, perhaps, given Franzen's fixation on familial resentment, a better metaphor might be your cranky uncle kvetching eloquently about your bratty cousins. Yes, Franzen relishes wading into the muck of his characters' twisted and morally corrupt psyches, but what he finds there seems less like authentically messy human complexity than a prefabricated, prescriptive mechanism of misbehavior.
I didn't even realize what the missing ingredient was until Franzen made a belated stab at inserting it. What's missing is compassion. Without authorial compassion for his troubled characters, those characters' development gets arrested at a half-baked, shallow level, no matter how frantically Franzen limns their consciousnesses. Franzen keeps digging and digging, but he never gets past the surface, because he's using the wrong shovel.
When he finally tries a little tenderness at the end, it's like the deathbed conversion of a lifelong atheist: Where the New York Times sees a genius who uses his "profound moral intelligence" to "illuminate the world we thought we knew," I see a good writer who has crafted a cynical soap opera against a ripped-from-the-headlines Bush-era backdrop ensuring baseless "Great American Novel" hosannas from the press.
Melodrama would, I suppose, be a kinder term than soap opera or gossip column , but that genre designation carries certain associations -- blatant artificiality, crying-on-the-outside catharsis, stylistic opulence -- that don't apply here.
And yet the book does, at times, feel like little more than a bad melodrama, a dour monotony representing neither the real world of emotions nor a freshly imagined authorial perspective on same.
And you know, if Franzen wanted to explore how Americans abuse their personal and political freedoms, I'm not sure why he chose such a blandly familiar cycle of jerks-hurting-jerks to express this potentially interesting theme. Mistakes are made; resentment simmers; betrayal explodes; lather, rinse, repeat, pass on to younger generation.
Marriage is hard, depression is insidious, infidelity can be a moral gray area, children shape their lives in reaction to their parents' lives, etc. I don't claim to be the world's closest reader, but I just don't see the profundity in that.
Not that profundity is a requirement of good fiction, but apart from the finely crafted prose I'm not sure this book even justifies its existence. Franzen buries his would-be thesis in an aside about somebody's immigrant grandfather: The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.
OK, that has a nice aphoristic ring to it. But who are the personalities susceptible to limitless freedom -- all Americans? If Franzen is saying that all Americans are prone to misanthropy and rage, I have three responses to that: What's the causality there? If that's the question you tried to answer with your book, Franzy, I don't think you pulled it off.
Frankly, I'm more convinced by that glib David Cross bit about how watching an episode of The Simple Life made him realize that he hated our freedom as much as George W. Bush said the terrorists did. I don't regret reading this though I do regret buying the hardcover. I've now done my due diligence with Franzen and can safely ignore him from now on. But hey, my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois gets name-checked in spectacularly bizarre fashion, so let me reproduce that by way of closing: Hell yeah, motherfucker.
That's how we roll. View all 19 comments. May 09, Justin rated it it was ok. Freedom started out that way for me, too. The prologue of the novel was probably my favorite part. But when the book took off from their it went into different directions that just fell flat for me. I challenge anyone who says that to read Herman Koch because he writes really good books about really bad people.
You know what I did? I basically validated my own decision to put the stupid book down. Anyway, a solid start, a fluffy middle, and an ultimately forgetful book. So forgetful, in fact, that I forgot to even review it. But who cares about my review or this book anyway? Pretending to care but not really caring about anything anyway?
View all 8 comments. Sep 12, Grace Tjan rated it really liked it Shelves: Have you ever… had a dysfunctional relationship with your parents? If you answer "yes" to any of the above queries, you would probably be able to recognize a part of your Have you ever… had a dysfunctional relationship with your parents?
If you answer "yes" to any of the above queries, you would probably be able to recognize a part of yourself in the characters of this novel the Berglunds, Walter and Patty, Midwestern liberals, and their family and friends.
Granted, not many among us enjoy looking at ourselves in the mirror first thing in the morning, with all that pillow-plastered hair, sleep-creased face and rheumy eyes staring back at us. Likewise, most of us would probably balk at being forced to look at our mirror images during the low points in our lives. But Franzen provides all these reflections in such a precise, detailed, Technicolor 3-D glory that you just have to look.
And Franzen delivers this in spades, from the messy, often contrarian emotions that one feels as a family disintegrates, to the moral confusion that ensues from adultery, compromises and corruption. In working the issues into the narrative, Franzen sometimes abandons realism and subtlety for broad satire: But at its heart this book is an inquiry into the nature of freedom, how it is exercised and the consequences thereof.
You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to. This voice has little to differentiate it from the authorial third person, and rather hard to believe issuing from an ex-jock, stay-at-home mom.
As I read it I wondered why Franzen insisted on using it. It only became clear why towards the end of the novel, where it provides extra oomph to the bittersweet, wonderfully poignant ending.
So is it War and Peace? But nothing is. And like many of the great 19th century novels that it resembles it is also didactic: View all 34 comments. May 08, Adam Floridia rated it did not like it Shelves: I decided to give in to the hype and read this book by the new American voice of our generation, the first author to grace the cover of Time in more than a decade, Jonathan Franzen only after I heard him speak in Hartford.
He seemed like a nice guy, with a kinda dry, almost bashful humor. Plus, he was friends with David Foster Wallace. So why not give Freedom a read? Based on your definition explain why this story is or is not good literature.
That template is something like this: Good literature tends to have both an interesting title and compelling characters. Although Freedom may have been the best choice of title, others would have been far more fitting based on the characters that populate the novel.
While reading, I often wondered how many alternate titles Franzen rejected before settling on Freedom. Other equally, or perhaps more, appropriate titles should have included the following: Competitiveness , Selfishness , Stagnation. Other examples include a mother in competition with her would-be daughter in law, a father in competition with his son, and various competitions among neighbors and various siblings.
All the real things, the authentic things, the honest things, are dying off. This vain, self-absorbed cast is almost as bad as that found on any reality show. While they all suffered various tragedies, I found myself constantly rooting for the fickle forces of nature that would lead to further misery for them. They just whine: For this, I wanted them all to die as soon as possible so the book would end. Ironically, there is one ancillary character who is pretty tolerable and has the potential to significantly change one of the main characters, but she is suddenly and randomly killed off, causing me to throw the book and wish that it had been anyone—nay everyone—else in the book!
Here is a lone character sketch that emphasizes what a miserable lot the whole is and should make you wonder why anyone would want to read about any of them: You want to savor it, to have it last as long as possible. To accomplish this, you stupidly dilute it with two cups of water. Not to waste it, you suffer every last drop of this crummy concoction. Kind of like that, Freedom made me think of a very, very watered down Yates novel.
I would say these things alone keep it from being universal and timeless.
Things crowbarred in to such an extent that they are actually jarring: Cultural References: If he squeezed the base of it really hard, he could make the head of it huge and hideous and almost black with venous blood. Stupid Descriptions: To be a dick…This is a good day to die! This, in addition to all of the other problems, prevents Freedom from being either timeless or universal or a good book at all. I will end with a quote from page View all 27 comments.
Jan 20, Fabian rated it liked it. If this were a cut of meat, it would be messy, ugly, but tasteful: This, for people with peculiar and surely refined tastes to favor. Who really cares for these revolting folks? I agree now with Liana: That one had a certain mechanism which let the reader become hooked to it till the bitter end.
Franzen has a confidence that makes me want to—well, gag. It is saved, I will brave up to say, by a truly clever ending, but the bigness of it is, in hindsight, its overall main detractor. There are articulate and smart criticisms of my personal favorite theme: I hated all people in this. Every single one had a fault that lead to my entire uninspired apathy. The husband is blinded by his incredibly-focused dreams of a better world. He lets the siblings have their freedoms and they, in turn, become rebellious.
Obviously the main obstacle here is No Understanding, since everyone is definitely quite selfish. The mother is a woman who married the wrong guy and looks for the missing fulfillment: I really despised this brat… his idleness I find synonymous with the All-American Useless Straight Guy… a deplorable contemporary archetype in whose presence I refuse to be… Imagine me sitting through plus pages of his infamous adventures, his altogether selfish persona Here, the decade may have been personified to a tee, but I honestly KNOW that there is better fiction out there, one that does away with this new brand of American Coolness: View all 9 comments.
Free Birds Now I dreaded reading this novel for many years. There was a lot of media focus on the bird-watching theme, and I once endured an interview with Franzen at a writers festival that seemed to address nothing else. I have to confess, though, that I spent much of my own childhood fascinated by native birds. I collected hundreds of cards from petrol stations and assembled them in books designed for the purpose. One of my favourite books was "What Bird is That? I just hiked a lot in the Boy Scout movement.
I saw lots of birds on the way. Our patrols were named after them. I wanted to be able to identify them. I loved their diversity and colour.
They were a vital part of the world. They were a vital part of my world. Equally, I could tell the difference between hundreds of species of trees. I still have a large bowl that contains my spontaneously assembled collection of seeds and nuts much to my wife's puzzlement. Birds came to represent freedom even if they're chained to the sky , while seeds and nuts symbolised fertility. My engagement present to F.
Sushi was a painting of tiny abstract seed-like objects that foretold childbirth and parenthood. Our youngest daughter got her driver's licence this week. So, part of my apprehension was, I didn't want to test my love of birds and trees against a more recent trend that seemed a little more self-conscious and affected dare I say, bourgeois? Depending on how generous you're feeling on the occasion of a Franzen interview, he can strike you as preppy, pompous, and a little starched collared when he speaks.
He pauses frequently, self-consciously and deliberatively, as if to capture the perfect thought or to sever the link between the question and his answer, when often the response that eventually comes is fairly pedestrian, but for the dramatic tension. As it turns out, the birds are a relatively discrete sub-theme of the novel. They don't really arrive until almost half way in.
Did your sometimes not go into overdrive when you pushed the overdrive button? Was it better to offer panhandlers food, or nothing? Was it possible to raise unprecedentedly confident, happy, brilliant kids while working full-time?
Could coffee beans be ground the night before you used them, or did this have to be done in the morning? Had anybody in the history of St. Paul ever had a positive experience with a roofer? What about a good Volvo mechanic? Did your have that problem with the sticky parking-brake cable? And that enigmatically labeled dashboard switch that made such a satisfying Swedish click but seemed not to be connected to anything: For all queries, Patty Berglund was a resource, a sunny carrier of sociocultural pollen, an affable bee.
She was one of the few stay-at-home moms in Ramsey Hill and was famously averse to speaking well of herself or ill of anybody else. She said she expected to be "beheaded" someday by one of the windows whose sash chains she'd replaced. Her children were "probably" dying of trichinosis from pork she'd undercooked. She wondered if her "addiction" to paint-stripper fumes might be related to her "never" reading books anymore.
She confided that she'd been "forbidden" to fertilize Walter's flowers after what had happened "last time. But most people found her humility sincere or at least amusing, and it was in any case hard to resist a woman whom your own children liked so much and who remembered not only their birthdays but yours, too, and came to your back door with a plate of cookies or a card or some lilies of the valley in a little thrift-store vase that she told you not to bother returning.
It was known that Patty had grown up back East, in a suburb of New York City, and had received one of the first women's full scholarships to play basketball at Minnesota, where, in her sophomore year, according to a plaque on the wall of Walter's home office, she'd made second-team all American.
One strange thing about Patty, given her strong family orientation, was that she had no discernible connection to her roots. Whole seasons passed without her setting foot outside St. Paul, and it wasn't clear that anybody from the East, not even her parents, had ever come out to visit. If you inquired point-blank about the parents, she would answer that the two of them did a lot of good things for a lot of people, her dad had a law practice in White Plains, her mom was a politician, yeah, a New York State assemblywoman.
Then she would nod emphatically and say, "Yeah, so, that's what they do," as if the topic had been exhausted. A game could be made oftrying to get Patty to agree that somebody's behavior was "bad. They needed Patty to select one of these epithets and join them in applying it to Carol Monaghan, but Patty was incapable of going past "weird," and the Paulsens in turn refused to add Connie to their invite list.
Patty was angry enough about this injustice to take her own kids, plus Connie and a school friend, out to a pumpkin farm and a hayride on the afternoon of the party, but the worst she would say aloud about the Paulsens was that their meanness to a seven-year-old girl was very weird. Carol Monaghan was the only other mother on Barrier Street who'd been around as long as Patty.
She'd come to Ramsey Hill on what you might call a patronage-exchange program, having been a secretary to somebody high-level in Hennepin County who moved her out of his district after he'd made her pregnant. Keeping the mother of your illegitimate child on your own office payroll: Carol became one of those distracted, break-taking clerks at the city license bureau while somebody equivalently well-connected in St.
Paul was hired in reverse across the river. The rental house on Barrier Street, next door to the Berglunds, had presumably been included in the deal; otherwise it was hard to see why Carol would have consented to live in what was then still basically a slum. Once a week, in summer, an empty-eyed kid in a Parks Department jumpsuit came by at dusk in an unmarked 4x4 and ran a mower around her lawn, and in winter the same kid materialized to snow-blow her sidewalk. By the late eighties, Carol was the only non-gentrifier left on the block.
She smoked Parliaments, bleached her hair, made lurid talons of her nails, fed her daughter heavily processed foods, and came home very late on Thursday nights "That's Mom's night out," she explained, as if every mom had one , quietly letting herself into the Berglunds' house with the key they'd given her and collecting the sleeping Connie from the sofa where Patty had tucked her under blankets. Patty had been implacably generous in offering to look after Connie while Carol was out working or shopping or doing her Thursday-night business, and Carol had become dependent on her for a ton of free babysitting.
It couldn't have escaped Patty's attention that Carol repaid this generosity by ignoring Patty's own daughter, Jessica, and doting inappropriately on her son, Joey "How about another smooch from the lady-killer? To Seth Paulsen, who talked about Patty a little too often for his wife's taste, the Berglunds were the super-guilty sort of liberals who needed to forgive everybody so their own good fortune could be forgiven; who lacked the courage of their privilege.
One problem with Seth's theory was that the Berglunds weren't all that privileged; their only known asset was their house, which they'd rebuilt with their own hands. Another problem, as Merrie Paulsen pointed out, was that Patty was no great progressive and certainly no feminist staying home with her birthday calendar, baking those goddamned birthday cookies and seemed altogether allergic to politics. If you mentioned an election or a candidate to her, you could see her struggling and failing to be her usual cheerful self-see her becoming agitated and doing too much nodding, too much yeah-yeahing.
Merrie, who was ten years older than Patty and looked every year of it, had formerly been active with the SDS in Madison and was now very active in the craze for Beaujolais nouveau.
When Seth, at a dinner party, mentioned Patty for the third or fourth time, Merrie went nouveau red in the face and declared that there was no larger consciousness, no solidarity, no political substance, no fungible structure, no true communitarianism in Patty Berglund's supposed neighborliness, it was all just regressive housewifely [expletive], and, frankly, in Merrie's opinion, if you were to scratch below the nicey-nice surface you might be surprised to find something rather hard and selfish and competitive and Reaganite in Patty; it was obvious that the only things that mattered to her were her children and her house - not her neighbors, not the poor, not her country, not her parents, not even her own husband.
And Patty was undeniably very into her son. Though Jessica was the more obvious credit to her parents-smitten with books, devoted to wildlife, talented at flute, stalwart on the soccer field, coveted as a babysitter, not so pretty as to be morally deformed by it, admired even by Merrie Paulsen - Joey was the child Patty could not shut up about.
In her chuckling, confiding, self-deprecating way, she spilled out barrel after barrel of unfiltered detail about her and Walter's difficulties with him.
Most of her stories took the form of complaints, and yet nobody doubted that she adored the boy. She was like a woman bemoaning her gorgeous jerky boyfriend. As if she were proud of having her heart trampled by him: View all New York Times newsletters.
Is he crying? Crying would be normal, and it would also stop. We make him turn the lights out, but his position is that he shouldn't have to go to sleep until we turn our own lights out, because he's exactly the same as us.
And, I swear to God, it is like clockwork, every fifteen minutes, I swear he's lying there staring at his alarm clock, every fifteen minutes he calls out, 'Still awake! I'm still awake!