Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
With all the hoopla about Franzen, Picoult, and Weiner, and their nasty little literary feud–plus Oprah and Franzen having that little tiff a while back–I probably’d’ve dodged this puppy. Why buy into the drama, right?
But then President Obama picked up an advance copy of Franzen’s Freedom while on vacation, and I am quite apt to buy into that kind of thing.
So I placed a hold at the library, and one lovely day my book came in.
And I gotta tell you: I liked it from the start. I was just wrapping up The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass, whose The Whole World Over bowled me over, and I found that Freedom was its equal in character development, plotting, and expressive language. Without being too full of itself or seeming to try to hard to impress. (Lord, deliver me from that.)
And it was filled with sentences of delight, like this one: “Merrie, who was ten years older than Patty and looked every year of it, had formerly been active with the SDS in Madison and now was very active in the craze for Beaujolais nouveau.” (p. 7) That’s the sort of thing that keeps a person reading through 562 pages. (562 pages, yes, you read that correctly.)
Probably the central figure is Patty Berglund, a St. Paul housewife. There’s also her husband Walter, an environmental activist type, plus their kids (mainly son Joey, because daughter Jessica is too well-adjusted to get much airplay). And then there are the people surrounding them: Walter’s minor rock star buddy, Richard; Walter’s doting assistant Lalitha (who is not-so-secretly in love with him); and neighbor girl Connie, who is in love with Joey.
And, with 500-some-odd pages to fill, lots of crap happens.
At one point, I was given to wonder which characters were actually worse humans: the ones with a strong conscience, or those who completely lacked such an inconvenience.
Since the book is called Freedom, I was on the lookout for mentions of the word, which appeared often throughout the book.
Here’s my summary: This book is about the freedoms enjoyed by Americans in the early 21st century, and the ways that many, many, many of us use that very freedom to royally screw up our lives.
Earlier this year, I wrote about messed-up marriage books. We can add this one to that pile.