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In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Walter and Patty In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Walter and Patty Berglund as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time. (from the back cover)


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In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Walter and Patty In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Walter and Patty Berglund as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time. (from the back cover)

30 review for Freedom Audiobook PACK en francais [Book + 2 CD MP3]

  1. 5 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    I read Freedom the week before Christmas. What was I thinking? Did I want a bleak, almost sullen, portrayal of America in the new century? And not a complete one, either, but limited to privileged white people? Why didn’t I just sit on the couch, get drunk, and watch Salt and Easy A? Ok, I did that, too, but my kids were off of school and apparently believe they should get to watch television as well, so I went upstairs and read away a few afternoons. Stupid Freedom. Mr. Franzen, you’re good. I read Freedom the week before Christmas. What was I thinking? Did I want a bleak, almost sullen, portrayal of America in the new century? And not a complete one, either, but limited to privileged white people? Why didn’t I just sit on the couch, get drunk, and watch Salt and Easy A? Ok, I did that, too, but my kids were off of school and apparently believe they should get to watch television as well, so I went upstairs and read away a few afternoons. Stupid Freedom. Mr. Franzen, you’re good. Most writers couldn’t touch your talent. However, I think I’d rather read something less technically adept but also less dismal and self-involved. If Freedom were a teenager the novel would be that really smart and well-intentioned affluent kid worried about impressing Harvard in his application and doing community service at a soup kitchen but washing his hands about 100 times when he finished and then becoming aware he was washing his hands about 100 times and feeling self-loathing and then writing a sincere application essay about self-loathing and washing hands and soup kitchens. I like that kid. He means well. It’s not like I’m working in a coal mine or whatever so I can’t criticize that kid too much. What’s he supposed to do? Leave college and become homeless just to look more authentic? Screw that. But I don’t want to hang out with that kid and I doubt he wants to hang out with me, and he maybe is a little too self-aware to notice other people’s stories except when listening makes him look like a good listener. And if this story is the Great American Novel that's because people like Franzen create and pay attention to literary magazines and talk about which book is the Great American Novel while the rest of the country does something else. I'm ok with that. I don't believe any book is the Great American Novel and no story can own everyone. Freedom tells one subculture's story well but seems to imply it's telling everyone's story. I get the feeling Franzen has read a lot of endless Russian novels and aspired to write his own. I read the novel quickly and slipped easily into Franzen’s buttery sentences and narrative structure. Near page four hundred I was reading through laced fingers. I felt like I was watching a particularly intellectual movie in which the characters make some really stupid stupid fucking choices. Freedom is complex and well-written but, while the characters’ inner monologues ring truthful, their broad decisions and circumstances often do not. I think Franzen is addressing the “freedom” theme with a focus on how Americans in particular face such a intimidating array of potentialities and the sense that you made the “right” one is almost impossible to attain. On Tuesday you might be in love with your husband but six months later leaving him might feel perfect. Which choice is a sign of truth and which of selfishness? Are you repressing emotions you don’t understand? How well do you know your own motivations? If you stay in a dead marriage are you dooming yourself to decades of regret? What if the marriage isn’t really dead but dormant? What internal perspectives do you control that transcend success and failures? Who can you trust if you don’t know yourself, and how well, really, can you know yourself? These are important questions, and Franzen starts the colloquy well, but these people and storylines function as privileged archetypes except when the plot-architect in Franzen’s consciousness decides to throw a curve here and there because he knows he’s supposed to do so. Franzen is sometimes too meta for his own novels’ good. Freedom also lacks timelessness. In twenty years readers will need endnotes with designations like “Jeff Tweedy: leader of Wilco, an influential country rock band” or “NPR: National Public Radio, an over-the-airwaves audio news station often associated with affluent liberals”. In attempting to catch the spirit of the age Franzen has focused on details that will lack future context. I guess that’s ok. I doubt he’s writing for people 100 years down the road and the details add to the novel’s landscape. This is a book for white people (uh, except Oprah, I guess) with good intentions who listen to NPR, went to college, and kind of hate themselves sometimes. Some of these people, apparently, assign awards and press coverage to literature and a weird cottage industry has emerged around slamming/endorsing Jonathan Franzen’s work. I’m going to leave that conversation to others because I don’t care much one way or the other. You want to argue that one, knock yourself out. I’ll be over here. Franzen mistakes aiming high with these characters, as far as themes are considered, for universiality. And I’m not sure that some of the characters’ wild swerves are more than the author’s personal regrets and fantasies. Listen. I’m going to say that Franzen doesn’t tread this territory as well as, say, Dostoevsky. But remember, then, I’m placing his work in the same sentence as Dostoevsky. I can’t think of many writers alive who can touch his technique. Future generations’ English majors will probably read this novel in a class called “American novels: 2000-2050” and write term papers with titles like “Materialism and Self-Identity in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom”. They’ll probably get A’s. Franzen, I think, has lived in that literary subculture for a long time, and he’s good at delivering material that exemplifies the best it has to offer. He’s a brilliant technician, and I like brilliant technique, but I’m not sure I loved Freedom as much as I admired it. Freedom is commendable but not great, expansive but nervous in its own expanse. Also, I wish I read something less fucking depressing the week before Christmas. But that’s my fault. I should know better.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kemper

    *Update 9/23 - Jonathan Franzen was in town doing a reading & signing last night, and after listening to him talk, I’m officially backing off of theory #1 below. He does not seem like a douche bag, at all. In fact, despite all the Oprah hoopla (Which he described as a fiasco, not because of anything that he or Oprah did, but because the whole thing got blown out of proportion.) and the backlash after the early raves for Freedom, Franzen came across as remarkably down-to-earth and funny. He *Update 9/23 - Jonathan Franzen was in town doing a reading & signing last night, and after listening to him talk, I’m officially backing off of theory #1 below. He does not seem like a douche bag, at all. In fact, despite all the Oprah hoopla (Which he described as a fiasco, not because of anything that he or Oprah did, but because the whole thing got blown out of proportion.) and the backlash after the early raves for Freedom, Franzen came across as remarkably down-to-earth and funny. He seems like a very smart guy who doesn’t take the media hype too seriously, but is clearly having a lot of fun with all the recent attention.* I picked up Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections earlier this summer, and it was one of the oddest reading experiences of my life because while I despised nearly every character in it, I still enjoyed the book. So when I started Freedom, I was hoping that I’d find some more likeable people in this one. After fifty pages, I was horrified to realize that it was looking like this book would be another collection of self-absorbed asshats. At that point, I thought there were two possibilities: 1) That Jonathan Franzen is a complete douche bag himself and that he actually thought he was creating sympathetic characters. 2) That Franzen has an even lower opinion of people than I do and uses his skill to convey an utter contempt for mankind by creating these pathetic excuses for human beings. However, as I got deeper into Freedom, and we started getting the history and alternate view points, I started to sympathize with most of the characters. (Except for Joey. I hated that smug little bastard through the entire thing and was really hoping that he‘d get set on fire at some point.) The Berglunds seem like a prime example of family-first socially conscious living. They bought a house in a run down St. Paul neighborhood and became the first wave of gentrification for that area. Walter is a lawyer who works on environmental causes. Patty was a talented college basketball player who channels all her old competitive instincts into being the best mother and neighbor possible. The two kids, Jessica and Joey, are intelligent and seem destined for big things. And just to give them a touch of cool in their suburban existence, Patty and Walter are old friends with Richard Katz, a womanizing musician who has just gained mainstream popularity. But the Berglunds quickly fall apart in spectacular fashion. Joey moves in with a neighbor after rebelling against Patty’s overwhelming love, and he and Walter can’t have a conversation without it turning into a screaming match. Patty has turned into a lost and bitter shadow of her former self. Walter has left his old environmental job to work with a rich man with ties to the coal industry, and as the kids leave for college, the parents are off to D.C. The novel covers a tremendous amount of ground, not just with the elaborate characterizations, but in terms of the backdrops. From Minnesota to New York to DC to West Virginia to South America, Franzen touches on 9/11, the Iraq war, environmentalism, overpopulation, rampant consumerism and the political fracturing of America, but by keeping it in terms of a family disintegration, he keeps the story relatable. One of the key things that comes up repeatedly is the idea that Americans have about freedom. It’s a word tossed around easily, and as Franzen explores here, many take it as their God given right to engage in mass consumption and lead completely unexamined lives with no regard for the consequences. Those who ask for more social responsibility are derided as ‘liberals’ and ‘intellectuals’ and ’elitists’. (I’m pretty sure Sarah Palin would hate this book. Assuming she could find someone to read it to her and explain the big words.) But this isn’t about idealizing liberal policies. Franzen makes a lot of valid points about how American politics has become a constant screaming match more concerned with beating the other guy than accomplishing anything. He makes good use of the character of Walter to illustrate how all the pent up rage and frustration, even for a ‘good’ cause, can make for a pretty miserable life. What good is trying to save the world if you can’t stand any of the people in it? Terrific book that’s almost a pitch perfect statement about what American life has been like since 2000 as seen through the eyes of some flawed, but decent people. (Except for Joey. That kid is a prick.) While freedom and happiness are usually considered to go hand-in-hand, these characters show that poorly used freedom can make you supremely unhappy. Random thoughts: -There’s several similarities to The Corrections: Everyone hates their family. There’s a very odd love triangle. A mother/son relationship is pushed to creepy extremes to irritate a father. A character gets caught up in an elaborate overseas get-rich-quick scheme. The daughter of the family is probably the most adult and sensible character. And there’s a really nasty scene involving human turds. Eww. What’s with all the poop, Franzen? - One of my favorite parts was Richard Katz’s interview where he makes several hilarious comments about the music industry. -The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality, also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage. That’s just about my entire existence summed up in one sentence. - There’s a plot point involving cats attacking song birds late in the book. Just as I was reading this section, a stray cat came up on our deck and tried to attack one of our two house kitties through the door screen. It was very startling to be reading about feral cats and then hear godawful yowling, hissing, screeching and general mayhem in the next room. For a second, I thought Franzen was so good that he caused me to have audio hallucinations.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    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 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 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. But I found How To Be Alone an incredibly well-crafted and insightful read. I was struck by the way the collection dealt reasonably with the complicated position of literarily minded folk in a digital age. I was so taken with How To Be Alone, in fact, that I thought there was simply no way that Freedom could be bad. 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. [Cue my head slamming into the table I was reading at.] In all honesty, I didn't just dislike the book. 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Okay, so earlier this summer I was waiting to see The National play Prospect Park ("Of course you were, Jessica...." -- but bear with me, that's my point), and I sent a text message to the guy who'd given me the tickets, thanking him again and observing that "White People don't LIKE seeing The National play Prospect Park; White People LOVE seeing The National play Prospect Park." This was a reference, of course, to the oft-quoted blog that holds a very high place on the seemingly endless list it Okay, so earlier this summer I was waiting to see The National play Prospect Park ("Of course you were, Jessica...." -- but bear with me, that's my point), and I sent a text message to the guy who'd given me the tickets, thanking him again and observing that "White People don't LIKE seeing The National play Prospect Park; White People LOVE seeing The National play Prospect Park." This was a reference, of course, to the oft-quoted blog that holds a very high place on the seemingly endless list it identified, of Stuff White People Like. 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. Jonathan Franzen should be on the list of Stuff White People Like, but he should also be on the (perhaps equivalent) list of Stuff White People Don't Want To Like But Do, which reflects the ambivalent discomfort of this particular group. 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: did this white person like Freedom? Well okay, the first 190 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: my behavior while traveling in public, and especially on mass transit, can best be described as sociopathic. 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. The TRAIN might be coming, and I GOT to be on it!!! 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: it was so entertaining and so fabulously engaging that I wanted to pick it up at actually all times. 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 187. 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." I did like this book. 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!) would never have touched it and it would've had some dumb pinky cover, but because he's a man, it's a Serious Novel. 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: it's not War and Peace. 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. "Haven't seen it," I'll admit, as I swig a microbrew. "But have you read Freedom?" And we'll take it from there.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    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. Yes. I will tell you about some of them. You would expect no less of me. I was reading along with the main character Patty Berglund’s autobiographical statement “Mistakes Were Made” (p 27 – 187) and was lapping it up until soap bubbles began appearing between me and the page. 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. But there are problems. Yes. I will tell you about some of them. You would expect no less of me. I was reading along with the main character Patty Berglund’s autobiographical statement “Mistakes Were Made” (p 27 – 187) and was lapping it up until soap bubbles began appearing between me and the page. The bubbles became suds – undeniable suds. 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. E.g., hoving into view, with his axe in his hand, comes a character called Richard Katz, indie rock god, Mr Moody Bohemia and all purpose babe magnet. Richard Kats Wears cool hats Has eyes for Patty (Whose friend is batty) His room-mate Walter Will never fault her Her heart may wander But his gets fonder Long and lean is Richard’s penis Walter’s trusting But Patty’s lusting Wait - is this Franzen Or marzipanzen? As Mr Katz’s pecker rose, so did my heart sink, for he is indeed a creature from Romanceland (that place of untrammelled pecs and mesmerising vaginas). 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! - the cool but morally bankrupt friend of Walter, the entirely uncool but totally bicycling and planet-befriending morally good guy. Here’s Richard meditating on his friendship with Walter : No other man had warmed Katz’s loins the way the sight of Walter did after long absence. 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. Ewww! Richard Katz describing a woman : A solid B-plus that could be an A-minus if she would work for extra credit. Again : Ewww! By page 200 I was thinking that I’d be having more fun watching Desperate Housewives because the dialogue is wittier. It got so I was playing the game of spotting titles of old songs amidst the soap. I got “I only want to be with you” (Dusty Springfield, page 235), and “What are you going to do when I’m gone?” (Barbara Lewis, p 452). Okay, what's good about Freedom? Ha ha, what an ironical question. This book gets most of its points for trying really really hard. For vein-throbbing brain-melding attempts to encompass the economics of Iraqi reconstruction contracts, mountaintop removal mining, songbird conservation and sundry other realities of the world's most modern country, and embed all of this into sketches of how two or three complicated families live from day to day and year to year, to pull all this together – well actually, a lot of the time it’s like JF is flailing away at his material, not the assured mover of chess pieces on the board but the frantically photographing & camcording and ambulance-chasing kind of novelist who rushes around after his many characters & can’t quite keep up with them all. 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. and Connie had a wry compact intelligence, a firm little clitoris of discernment and sensitivity and Katz’s blood was up, he was all jittery-jangly. It was like coke cut heavily with nasty meth. (Is this a simile JF thinks will ring bells with his readers? No, so it’s something his character the egregious Katz would think. 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. Maybe if the meth was nice he’d be just jangly and not jittery too. Oh I don’t know. ) Anyway - pretty ghastly. And - oh well, while I’m moaning and griping, here’s some more. 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. They’re quite fun in a sneery sort of way but they do seem like JF is getting a bit of humour in there in case he gets accused of having written another Big Depressing Hell In A Handbasket Novel, which really, this is (Iraq, global warning, environmental destruction, overpopulation, oh oh oh woe is us woe is us, smite us Lord, we fully deserve every last smite). And : now obviously JF does not wish to do this, but every time one of his young characters (say Jessica) berates one of his slightly less young characters (say Lalitha) for being out of touch with they way young people do right now (e.g not knowing that kids have mostly abandoned emailing for texting) he, JF, is perforce, as author, advertising just how down with the kids he himself is, which, alas and alack, is kind of like seeing your 52 year old uncle do the Twist. No, the Frug. No, I mean that Body Pop thing. And - this book is built out of sturdy slabs of knowingness and social nuance. You have to get what’s intended by the great many phrases like “in the earliest years when you could drive a Volvo 240 without feeling self-conscious”. Well, maybe some of us can’t quite be bothered to rack our brains to think what a Volvo 240 is and why it became something you would be ashamed of. (JF : Well, do your homework then. I want active engaged readers. PB : Yeah, I know, sorry and all. But I did finish your damned big book. So, you know, be quiet.) JF in a Freedom-promoting interview said that the most important thing he should be doing in his novels is ‘To find an adequate narrative vehicle for the most difficult stuff at the core of me, in the hope that that might resonate with the reader who otherwise has been feeling alone with those deep, difficult feelings.’ Well, he tried, he really tried, and for a great number of star-besprinkling reviewers, he succeeded. It’s good, it is … er… good, long but good, long long long but quite good.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    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 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. There can be a richness to such characters, an honesty which is frequently lacking in Hero-like characters and/or the tragically trampled upon, naively and purely good souls featured in more soul-massaging, hopeful literature. And Freedom is (mostly) not a nice tale. It is, rather, almost 600 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). However, even with the inside scoop, something kept bothering me about these particular assholes/hats. They seemed almost...too familiar? 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: Walter: The Guy You Are Supposed To Pity. Sweet, ideological, overachieving, good friend, good husband, good citizen, liberal, book-smart, giving, loving, naive, nature-preserving Walter...you know, the rug for the more venomous characters' feet, the guy who never does wrong by anybody, and so spends his life being sucked dry by Shitty Friend Generic Rock Star Studs and She-Beasts. Patty: 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. Richard: The 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!) and best friend's crushes and girlfriends (oh no!), has off and on substance abuse problems (whaaaat?), doesn't really know himself until it is too late (you're kidding me) and is a ramblin' man who can never really give a part of his heart to anyone or be meaningful at all in anyone's life but his own because gifted musicians are apparently wholly incapable of multi-tasking on any level whatsoever. (Aside from, of course, the sex-aaaay seXXX level, since all musicians are spectacular in bed...spectacular and rough! 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...let's say "misplaced." I'll stop here with Richard, since if I say anything more, there will only be a few crumbles of substance left for the novel to reveal. 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. Connie: 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: that'll get him knockin' at your window again. 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: rather than simply standing as unawares examples of common character motifs, these people were all terribly hyper-aware of themselves. 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? Really? 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: assholes and asshats. 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. *Upon reflection, this is getting downgraded to a 3. I'm too nice with these stars...so I'm putting my foot down, dammit!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    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 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 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: A) Every single person in this book is an asshole, a narcissist, or both, and after being around them for 500+ slow-going pages, I now hate humankind. 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 200 pages of non-integral reading. {NB: 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.} C) The whole thing felt directionless. 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    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 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 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. Franzen’s true gift is his characterizations, which are spot on, multi-layered and rich in detail. 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kinga

    UPDATED. 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 I just don’t do soap operas. I can just about manage about 10 minutes every 5th episode, but that’s about it. And Franzen submitted me to 570 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 UPDATED. 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 I just don’t do soap operas. I can just about manage about 10 minutes every 5th episode, but that’s about it. And Franzen submitted me to 570 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 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: "Patty said no, Walter insisted, she insisted no, he insisted yes. Then she realized he didn’t have a car and was offering to ride the bus with her, and she insisted no all over again, and he insisted yes" Sorry, what is this? Is this the Great American Novel? Are you kidding me? "She almost suggested to Walter that he had better kiss her first, if he was going to be asking her to live with him, but she was so offended that she didn’t feel like being kissed at that moment." And if you are tired of this sugary girly revelations, you can get the more raw stuff when the perspective changes to Katz: "His dick was saying yes to something now, and this something was certainly not the wideish ass of the retreating jogger. Had death, in fact, been his dick’s message in sending him to Washington? Had he simply misunderstood its prophecy?" You get the idea. And don’t even get me started on the fucked up chronology. It wasn’t done in eloquent, mysterious way, it was done in a blabbermouth with ADHD way. 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. But as they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, therefore this book made stronger, so for that alone I had to give it two stars. 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. *UPDATE - oh yeah. 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. DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH. If anyone else claims there is no sexism in literary/publishing world, this here is my best demonstrative evidence that there is. Honest to God, who would take this book seriously if it was written by a woman and had something pink on the cover?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Krok Zero

    Uh-oh. 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 Uh-oh. 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 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. Which might sound like a bit of bitchy fun, but remember we're talking about 500+ pages here, and that shit gets old. 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: sincere, but untrustworthy. 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: 1) No shit, Sherlock. 2) That's not unique to Americans. 3) What exactly does freedom have to do with misanthropy? 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. He goes on the I Don't Get It list, alongside such other beloved-by-people-who-aren't-me artists as Hayao Miyazaki and Joy Division. But hey, my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois gets name-checked in spectacularly bizarre fashion, so let me reproduce that by way of closing: Walter’s sophisticated Chicago cousin Leif told informative and harrowing stories of the big-city suburbs; most memorable and worry-provoking, for Walter, was the one about an Oak Park eighth-grader who’d managed to get naked with a girl and then, unsure about what was supposed to happen next, had peed all over her legs. Hell yeah, motherfucker. That's how we roll.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Times I hear, “You either love him or hate him,” I often both love him and hate him. In feeling lukewarm, there’s a distinction to be made in how you got there. To find every aspect average is not the same as combining extreme likes and dislikes that tally to the same net amount. I’d rather feel strongly both ways. So here’s my highly variable assessment of Franzen and his latest. On the “like” side of the ledger, I have to give him his due for being one helluva good writer. His sentences flow, Times I hear, “You either love him or hate him,” I often both love him and hate him. In feeling lukewarm, there’s a distinction to be made in how you got there. To find every aspect average is not the same as combining extreme likes and dislikes that tally to the same net amount. I’d rather feel strongly both ways. So here’s my highly variable assessment of Franzen and his latest. On the “like” side of the ledger, I have to give him his due for being one helluva good writer. 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. He doesn’t half-ass it in developing them either. I noticed, too, more redeeming qualities in these people compared to the dyspeptic family in his previous would-be classic, The Corrections. At least for a while that’s what I thought. But Franzen’s tendency towards acrimony eventually plays out. Everyone has problems, nobody’s happy for long, and they lash out fiercely, often indiscriminately. In a way it was more depressing this time because for some characters, over some stretches, he actually made me care. I can handle “dark”, and sometimes even “bleak”, but for Franzen’s cast, they didn’t seem to come by it honestly. 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). Their inconsistencies didn’t ring true. If you’re in the “love him” camp, you might view this as a wonderful saga of our times. The modern day, green-conscious, gentrifying class (I believe “yuppie” is the antiquated term) is skillfully deconstructed. 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. Son Joey might as well have worked for Halliburton, but that’s at odds with his previously avowed views and certainly with his upbringing. Walter is a conservationist, but becomes a sorely compromised one. And Patty’s family back east is from the limousine liberal school of thought, yet had a very unsupportive view when it came to a vital women’s issue (I won’t say what, but it rhymes with date crepe). You might conclude they were all a little naïve about the best and worst traits of their own chosen sides. The big theme was mentioned often and explicitly. The conclusion is easy to summarize: Freedom isn’t always a good thing. 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. To be honest, I don’t see Franzen at his insightful best when it comes to this issue. Who wouldn’t agree that freedom is good up to the point it encroaches on toes? 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? By those standards, I side with the arbiters of such things who look at the pillars of our American experience – individualism, consumerism, might as a proxy for right, and self-interest (which may teeter with self- loathing) – and distrust Franzen’s constructs to represent their abuses. I recognize buttheads in everyday life, including my own brand, but I just don’t see his type as being the real deal. It occurs to me that my review may be as inconsistent as one of Franzen’s flawed characters. I’m saying I don’t much care for the core of what he says, but that he says it very well. 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    I’ll review it tomorrow. In other news, I’m done with Franzen. ——— Update - it isn’t tomorrow. It’s almost three weeks later, and here I am... finally reviewing this giant, heavy brick of a book. I’ll start by telling you I really enjoyed The Corrections. It wasn’t always easy to want to pick it up and read it, but when I finally finished it I was glad I did. Freedom started out that way for me, too. The prologue of the novel was probably my favorite part. Maybe it’s because I live in the suburbs, I’ll review it tomorrow. In other news, I’m done with Franzen. ——— Update - it isn’t tomorrow. It’s almost three weeks later, and here I am... finally reviewing this giant, heavy brick of a book. I’ll start by telling you I really enjoyed The Corrections. It wasn’t always easy to want to pick it up and read it, but when I finally finished it I was glad I did. Freedom started out that way for me, too. The prologue of the novel was probably my favorite part. Maybe it’s because I live in the suburbs, and the point of view of the neighbors deceiving people on their street cut close to the bone. I liked how things were set up from the beginning with the whole “ahh yes everything seems so perfect in the suburbs but everyone is crazy and no one is happy” thing going on. But when the book took off from their it went into different directions that just fell flat for me. People often say they don’t like a book because they don’t like any of the characters. I challenge anyone who says that to read Herman Koch because he writes really good books about really bad people. The people in this book suck, too, but in more of an “I don’t really care” kind of way. There are things that happen, a whole lot of meandering conversations, and ultimately it ends up being a book you don’t care about. I didn’t finish it. I read about two thirds of it, maybe three fourths, but I didn’t care anymore. You know what I did? I loaded up Wikipedia and I read the whole plot summary and spoiled the ending for myself, and, man, I still didn’t care. I was just happy o didn’t actually finish the book. I basically validated my own decision to put the stupid book down. And isn’t that life, Goodreaders? Isn’t life wandering around validating ourselves? Aren’t we always right about everything anyway? I’m getting carried away here... 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? Isn’t that life? Pretending to care but not really caring about anything anyway? I’m getting carried away again....

  13. 5 out of 5

    Grace Tjan

    Have you ever… had a dysfunctional relationship with your parents? had a college best friend that turned out to be toxic? started up as an idealist but then compromised into working for the dark side? cheated on your nice guy husband with his cool best friend? had a teenage son who ran away from home to shack up with the neighbor’s underage daughter? been corrupted by the military-industrial complex? If you answer "yes" to any of the above queries, you would probably be able to recognize a part of Have you ever… had a dysfunctional relationship with your parents? had a college best friend that turned out to be toxic? started up as an idealist but then compromised into working for the dark side? cheated on your nice guy husband with his cool best friend? had a teenage son who ran away from home to shack up with the neighbor’s underage daughter? been corrupted by the military-industrial complex? 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 then, depending on your life experiences, there will be times when you go “ouch” with painful recognition, and other times when you go “huh” with astonishment. For me, it’s mostly the case of the latter rather than the earlier, but isn’t it the novelist’s job to provide us with those vicarious experiences that we know are fictional but that feel like the truth? 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 its denseness, length and ambitious scope, Freedom looks and feels like one of those sprawling 19th century realist novel (Walter is Pierre, Patty is Natasha, and Richard is Prince Andrei/Anatole, or at least that’s how Patty sees it), complete with authorial pontification on virtually every big issue that defines the era that it chronicles. If the 19th century was, among other things, about the emancipation of serfs, the advent of the railways, land enclosures and Napoleonic wars, Franzen’s Bush-era America is about 9/11, environmental degradation, well-connected big businesses and Middle Eastern wars. In working the issues into the narrative, Franzen sometimes abandons realism and subtlety for broad satire: the rent-seeking foundation that Joey works for is called RISEN (Restore Iraqi Secular Enterprise Now), Walter rants that “WE ARE A CANCER TO THE PLANET” in front of West Virginians rednecks that he displaced to make way for a coal mine/bird sanctuary, and among the kooky names that he considers for his zero population growth NGO are Lonelier Planet, Rubbers Unlimited, Coalition of the Already Born, Smash the Family and All Children Left Behind. And there is a stomach churning comedic/pathetic scene with Joey and his turds (don’t ask). But at its heart this book is an inquiry into the nature of freedom, how it is exercised and the consequences thereof. "It’s all circling around the same problem of personal liberties,” Walter said. “People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. 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." To be fair, Franzen also skewers liberals like Walter, who takes their environmentalism to loony extremes. A substantial part of the book is told in Patty’s voice, referring to herself in third person, in the form of a diary that she writes for therapy. 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? No, it’s not War and Peace. But nothing is. It is a well-written novel that successfully captures the post 9/11 zeitgeist, as well as charting the ebb and flow of personal relationships between its flawed as hell but ultimately sympathetic characters in a realistic yet compassionate manner. And like many of the great 19th century novels that it resembles it is also didactic: a cautionary tale about the dark side of freedom. "The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    Background: 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? It seemed fairly reasonable to expect this to be “good literature.” Explanatory Digression: The state of CT uses the Background: 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? It seemed fairly reasonable to expect this to be “good literature.” Explanatory Digression: The state of CT uses the CAPT as the standardized test given to all 10th graders. After reading a short story, students must answer four “literary analysis” questions about the story. The fourth question is always “What is your definition of good literature? Based on your definition explain why this story is or is not good literature.” To try to diminish the number of answers proclaiming every story to be bad literature because “it’s boring and I hate to read” or of being deemed good literature because “there are no spelling errors,” teachers drill a template into the heads of their students. That template is something like this: “To be considered good literature a story needs to be universal and timeless. [Explanation of each term and, sometimes inclusion of another literary element.] The story XXX by XXX should be considered good literature because it is universal and timeless [and, sometimes, something else too].” Students are never to say something is not good literature because it is just so much easier to prove it’s good by using specific examples. Anyway, I’m going rogue and asserting that Freedom is not good literature. Proof: 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. The horribly rendered characters—all perhaps the most static, flat clichés imaginable—are crucibles of those three nouns. One main character, The Nice-Guy-Nerd, sees his entire life as a competition with his college roommate, the Totally-Hip-Rockstar-Horndog. That’s fine while they are roommates in college, but when they’re in their fifties it’s just too much. I would like to think that most people grow out of the “my self-worth is totally dependent upon others’ perceptions and how I stack up against others”; however, these static characters are never able to view any aspect of life as anything other than competition (and not even in Capitalistic competition sense, but in the middle school girl sense). 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. Although surprisingly not really related to competitiveness, here is an exemplary exchange between the two biggest clichés: “ ‘This was what was keeping him awake at night…This fragmentation. Because it’s the same problem everywhere. It’s like the internet or cable TV—there’s never any center, there’s no communal agreement, there’s just a trillion little bits of distracting noise. We can never sit down and have any kind of sustained conversation, it’s all just cheap trash and shitty development. All the real things, the authentic things, the honest things, are dying off. Intellectually, culturally, we just bounce around like random billiard balls, reacting to the latest random stimuli’ [So far a bit forced in the scheme of things, but a decent, “deep” assessment of the problems of living in the digital age, even if it has been said even 20 years ago by Delillo. Anyway, cue extreme cliché number two and be sure to note that I am not breaking this conversation with ellipses!] ‘There’s some pretty good porn on the internet’ Katz said” (218). *** The fact that all of these characters are eternally locked in the numerous perceived-competitions really speaks to my second title: Selfishness. 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. Usually readers like to cheer for the characters, even if they are less than moral paragons (Raskolnikov, Leer, Heathcliff, Don Juan, Milton’s Satan); Franzen’s creations are so wont to wallow in self-pity that they never develop at all, they don’t learn enough from their mistakes to redeem themselves, they simply stagnate. They just whine: “He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know how to live” (318). 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: Disloyal-Selfish-Callow-Stay-at-home-Mom: “Even if Richard wasn’t disgusted by it, she herself would be” (158). “She saw, in other words, what it meant to have become a deeply unhappy person” (160). “All she could see was the great emptiness of her life, the emptiness of her nest, the pointlessness of her existence now that the kids had flown” (164). “Oh, the temptations of self-pity. So sweet to her, so irresistible to give voice to” (181). *** Imagine having a really great 100 year old scotch. 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. Yates’ works have the powerful, poignant punch of emotion, of story, of depression, of familial conflict of a single glass of scotch. Draw that out by adding about 400 pages, and you’ve got Freedom, the severely adulterated drink that it will now take much longer to miserably force down. Maybe that’s not the best analogy, but this book did often drive me to my 25 yr. old Chivas. Unfortunately, this is not only diluted-Yates, but diluted-Yates with random turds floating through it, remnants, perhaps, of Gravity’s Rainbow’s worst. 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: I. Cultural References: “ ‘Why frightened?’ he found himself saying, like Tony Soprano’s shrink” (249) and “it had seemed so dumb of her [to be]…so hostile toward Married with Children, whose own stupidity was so calculated as to be flat-out brilliant…This was the sick heart of her dumbness: she was competing” (247). II. Sex: “His crying had given him a boner that he now removed from his boxers and khakis and held on to for dear life. 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. He so much liked looking at it, so much enjoyed the feeling of protection and independence its repulsive beauty gave him…” (250) and “One afternoon, as Connie described it, her excited clitoris grew to be eight inches long, a protruding pencil or tenderness with which she parted the lips of his penis and drove herself down to the shaft…Another day, Joey described to her the sleek warm neatness of her turds as they slid from her anus and fell into his open mouth” (259). III. Stupid Descriptions: “She was wearing very soft-looking socks, the socks of somebody whose feet weren’t so young and well-padded anymore” (371) and “You were like a bad drug I couldn’t stop craving” (375) and “His job in life was to speak the truth. To be a dick…This is a good day to die! [he thought]” (378) and “Good to finally hear from you—not” (379). IV. Politics: Nearly every character is described, at some point, in terms of his/her political leaning despite how irrelevant that is to anything else. *** In summary, Freedom should not be considered good literature. The characters are flat, static, miserable to read about, clichéd-caricatures. 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 268: “Freedom is a pain in the ass.” The only mistake Franzen made there is not italicizing “Freedom.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    Mrs. Flick has been wholeheartedly pushing this book on Liana & I. &... finally I got my paws on it, and the verdict is this: medium-well. If this were a cut of meat, it would be messy, ugly, but tasteful: there would be much blackness on the outside (Franzen is quite the oxymoron: he’s incredibly vivid in his very opaqueness: there are four members of the Berglund family and only three get to have their stories unfold: the elusive daughter is not worthy, apparently, of a narrative Mrs. Flick has been wholeheartedly pushing this book on Liana & I. &... finally I got my paws on it, and the verdict is this: medium-well. If this were a cut of meat, it would be messy, ugly, but tasteful: there would be much blackness on the outside (Franzen is quite the oxymoron: he’s incredibly vivid in his very opaqueness: there are four members of the Berglund family and only three get to have their stories unfold: the elusive daughter is not worthy, apparently, of a narrative space) and the juices are left in. This, for people with peculiar (and surely refined) tastes to favor. "Freedom" is contrived and elegant, a portrait as sure of its (wide!) scope as Updike in his “Rabbit” novels proved. Like the theme itself implies, there are various problems with “Freedom.” The cover, with a wingless songbird (very relevant to the book’s plot) about to dash an invisible barrier formed by the bold type pronouncing the title and writer (as well as the ever-important “Author of ‘The Corrections’” tag), is a great one. It encompasses the brave enormous space taken by Franzen’s narrative about a (Dysfunctional? Emblematic? Typical?) family living in the new millennium: about dashed potentials and “mistakes that we(re) made.” There is here the always-pesky problem which plagued revered “Rabbit Armstrong”’s insipid existence (over 4 decades long): Who really cares for these revolting folks? I agree now with Liana: I will not, however, recant my prior critique of “The Corrections” since I truly remember being moved profoundly by that one. That one had a certain mechanism which let the reader become hooked to it till the bitter end. But this one is ambiguous in many respects, has no motorized heart, except in explicit sentences with complicated structures & paragraphs almost over-puffed with full-on pretentiousness. It is also a sad victim of the gross crime of “Overthinking It”: Did it really take almost 600 pages to tell the simple tale of infidelity & a family’s total dissatisfaction with modernity? 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:) overpopulation. [I am relieved to say that FINALLY a book, outside of sci-fi or the short tales of J. G. Ballard, has finally the guts to tackle this {sadly… pretty conservative view} of incredibly large populations of people taking over and their eventual {& uber-understandable!} depletion of the globe’s natural resources!]). 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: how did she never notice her mistake? (Wow- Madame Bovary—still relevant today, to everyone’s detriment.) & the son… well, he becomes a young Republican, makes a bundle of money for himself, so let that just speak for itself (on top of which: 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 200 plus pages of his infamous adventures, his altogether selfish persona... the reading truly becomes a chore). 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: too detailed and too psychotic, altogether tragic, sometimes dull and persistently l-o-o-OOOn-g. I had very little “Freedom” to envision anything other than a pathetic portrait of the contemporary family picture—and not much American beauty in it at all.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    2015 REVIEW: 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 wasn't so much 2015 REVIEW: 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 wasn't so much a Volvo-driving avian trainspotter or even a proto-Club of Rome environmentalist. I just hiked a lot in the Boy Scout movement. I saw lots of birds on the way. Our patrols were named after them. Peewit. Rosella. Lorikeet. 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.M. 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?) than what I had so innocently engaged in (albeit inspired by that incorrigible imperialist, Lord Baden-Powell). Pride, Pomp and Circumstance of Glorious War Then there was the persona of Franzen himself. 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. Then they're more incidental to the human relationships, albeit a symbol of freedom under threat, both natural and social. In short, I needn't have been so apprehensive. Still, for much of the novel, I resisted its allure. I looked too earnestly for things I didn't like. I catalogued them in my updates, most of which I have elected not to discuss in my review. It was like having new neighbours move in. I was seeking fault in them first, without giving them an opportunity to make a positive impression. I was approaching them in a combative frame of mind. They were on show, and I had pre-judged them on appearances. Fraternity had taken a back seat. I wasn't being very neighbourly. For a long time, I probably would have rated the novel three stars. However, eventually, I decided to up it to four (I'm not a fan of half stars; ultimately, you just have to make up your mind to round up or round down). http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2011/02/1... The Slow Dazzle of Construction Franzen strikes me as a patient, if painstaking, writer. Neither he nor his characters ever seem particularly hurried or impatient. Nevertheless, I found the novel a very quick and easy read, despite its length. For all the labour on the part of both author and reader, the resulting experience was quite leisurely. Franzen commits words to the page like an artist wielding brush strokes. Not every word or sentence has to wow the reader. The picture emerges from the gradual accumulation of detail, the slow dazzle of construction, rather than any particular lyricism or fireworks. Indeed, in the whole book, there was really only one lyrical sentence or phrase that really stood out in its own right (as opposed to constituting a mere bit part in a larger ensemble): "Connie, stark naked, bloody-red of lip and nipple..." There's something almost Joycean in that sentence for me. The Connections Franzen's subject matter is the middle to upper echelons of the American middle class. While he seems to be pretty firmly ensconced in it himself, he writes of it as "possessive...competitive...exclusive", disconnected and discontented. He describes its "liberal disagreeability" when it comes into contact with other classes or sub-classes. Franzen's previous novel concerned the attempts of one generation to "correct" or remedy the perceived faults of its parents' generation. In this one, he broadens his perspective, while still maintaining a family base. Although "mistakes" continue to abound, the novel could almost have been called "The Connections". It's not just concerned with the relationship between generations, we're shown the internal dynamic of all sorts of relationship or bond: parents, children, siblings, spouses, partners, employees, neighbours, consumers, readers, audiences. Franzen shows us an entire ecosystem, a natural, social and economic environment. He paints a portrait of the American family, paradoxically, in all its liberalism, all its conservatism, all its "reactionary splendour", as if it were a breeding ground for or a microcosm of capitalist society, with all its internal contradictions. Then he implicitly asks the question whether it's heading towards a recession, a revolution or even extinction. His answer is optimistic, but it takes a lot of effort for the modern family to survive, let alone thrive, in the face of rampant egotism. The Soft Parade The problem for the American family is probably the same thing that apparently makes America great. Franzen seems to take de Tocqueville's perceptions a step further in his fiction. This is a society in which freedom and individualism occupy the driver's seat. However, one man's liberty/mastery is often another man's (or woman's) subjection/slavery. The novel is a slow, soft parade of Darwinian self-interest, narcissism, independence, rivalry, jealousy, envy, resentment, refusal, resistance, silence, blame, vileness, hatred, hostility, destruction, survival, separation, and reconciliation. Almost imperceptibly, private domestic concerns cohere into a broader vision of humanity, post-religion, if not (yet) post-family or post-community, and hence its relevance beyond America and beyond the recent past in which it's set. Is this the way of the world, Franzen seems to be asking? At least those parts of the world that have become Americanised, if that doesn't exclude anyone. Flight from Fancy There's an aspect of Franzen's writing that reminds me of a less showy or ostentatious "Couples"-era John Updike, when I personally prefer Bellow and Roth, Carver and Ford. His prose rarely flies like theirs. It doesn't strike or imbue you with wonder. It's too steeped in the mundane, everyday reality of realism, naturally enough. Still, by the time you arrive at the end of the novel, you feel you've got to know and like and recognise these characters, probably because they are just like your neighbours, and/or maybe even just like you. Ironically, when you finish this big, ostensibly clumsy, haphazard construction, you discover that it did actually get off the ground, that it could fly after all, and you realise that for a few days you sat on its wings and enjoyed the birds-eye view it afforded you. SOUNDTRACK: (view spoiler)[ The Freedom Playlist: Every Single Song in Jonathan Franzen’s "Freedom" http://flaneurinpajamas.tumblr.com/po... ...plus some bonus tracks: Bob Dylan and Donovan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lc6Hc... Lene Lovich - "Lucky Number" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnIJO... Lene Lovich - "Lucky Number" [Live on Top of the Pops, 1979] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGoEm... The Beat - "Stand Down Margaret" (OTT 1982) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFaFV... The Dream Syndicate - "Halloween" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69wxe... Yo La Tengo - "I Heard You Looking" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOun_... Magazine - "Definitive Gaze" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPPWW... "Got this bird's eye view and it's in my brain Clarity has reared its ugly head again So this is real life you're telling me And everything is where it ought to be. I like your nerve, I like watching you But I don't watch what I'm doing, got better things to do So this is real life you're telling me Now I'm lost in shock, your face fits perfectly." Sufjan Stevens - "Casimir Pulaski Day" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EzeW... The Traumatics - "Penis Felis Catus" (from the album "Reactionary Splendor") https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XewRK... INTERVIEWS: Jonathan Franzen - "Freedom" (Great American Novel)[Interview on Norwegian station NRK2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1N7D... Jeffrey Brown Interview on PBS NewsHour [Franzen Explores the Post-9/11 Family in 'Freedom'] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EANwS... Jonathan Franzen talks with David Remnick - The New Yorker Festival (Hosted by The New Yorker) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA2Aj... Blues Traveler - "Go Outside And Drive " https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFzkt... Mentioned about 21 minutes into the New Yorker interview. (hide spoiler)] ORIGINAL 2011 REVIEW (view spoiler)[ I'm thinking of starting "Freedom" this Easter. But I need someone to egg me on. I always eggspect to dine well at the Deli Franzen, unreservedly well in fact, both eleggantly and sufficiently. My problem is that I have great eggspectations. And they're not being fulfilled. It's starting to eggsasperate me. I'm sure that, deep down, Chef Franzen is a good egg. It's just that, when I order Eggs Benedict, more often than not, he serves me up a Curate's Egg. I don't know whether the problem is him or me. I don't think I'm asking for anything eggstravagant. I mean they're just flipping eggs. I don't want to have to poach them from someone else, that's all. I want to dine at the Deli Franzen and enjoy the eggsperience. Without a reservation. I want a five star diner in my neighbourhood. And I only got a three. (hide spoiler)]

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    There's was no way for me to read Freedom and not compare it to The Corrections. No chance. I fiercely loved The Corrections and was expecting to love Freedom so much less than I actually did. It was probably a little unfair to go into it with that attitude, I just assumed this was a rebound book and the reviews are so mixed. But I was pulled into the story instantly and was enthralled 99% of the time. That's pretty darn good for a 600-odd page book. The similarities between the two books are There's was no way for me to read Freedom and not compare it to The Corrections. No chance. I fiercely loved The Corrections and was expecting to love Freedom so much less than I actually did. It was probably a little unfair to go into it with that attitude, I just assumed this was a rebound book and the reviews are so mixed. But I was pulled into the story instantly and was enthralled 99% of the time. That's pretty darn good for a 600-odd page book. The similarities between the two books are sparklingly clear. Unlikeable, uptight, troubled, upper-class ,white characters living unhappy privileged lives. We write what we know, right? I guess this is what Franzen knows and he writes about it really well. Dysfunction, regret, depression, suppression, disillusionment - these are things we all know, unless you're one of the only people alive who didn't have an even remotely troubled parent, sibling, relative, friend or self. The character of Patty Berglund was, to me, so painfully realistic that I ate up her chapters eagerly. "Mistakes were made" she starts off. And indeed, her life, her marriage, her mothering all became inevitably soured by her painful childhood and traumatic teenage experience. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for a good angst book. And this character and this book pierced so deeply and beautifully, so authentically, so completely...I battled with being unable to put the book down (more more more, gimme more) and wanting to delay finishing it. Patty is as despicable as any Franzen character and for that I loved her. Criticisms: (1) Richard Katz made me cringe. He was just a little bit too much of a caricature. All I could picture was a slightly less tragic and more attractive Bret Michaels. Minus the diabetes and the reality shows. But I recognize what Franzen was trying to do with Richard and with Walter for that matter. Two halves, two extremes, two exaggerations. Beautifully done. Even if Patty's infatuation with Richard was tiresome and predicable. (2) The politics got so heavy handed at times it would be easy to be very very annoyed. And I almost was. Even though I agree with Franzen's stance on conservation and admire that he writes about it, I don't enjoy having any author's politics rammed down my throat in such an obvious way. A lil subtlety wouldn't go astray. The character of Walter and his zealousness with environmental issues, while obviously in part existed to fill the gaping hole in his life and marriage and serve as an outlet for his demise, it was just a bit OTT. Franzen has an impeccable way of capturing what it feels like to live in The United States today. His pop-culture references, his politics, his overall sense of the current climate of life encapsulated in very good, serious, teeth-sinkable, witty fiction. I can see people reading this in 50 years, 100 years, and truly getting what it was like to be a young-middle-aged person right here right now.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A fulsome and satisfying read. He is old-fashioned in the way he makes the reader feel like an ally of the narrator, or author himself sometimes, from an omniscient perspective, and then slipping in a more modern way into the thoughts, perceptions, and feelings of the characters. Beyond morality tales of the likes of Dickens, he has that modern balance of humor and pathos like in novels of Bellow and Updike. Tragicomedies that don’t really go over the top like Tom Wolfe does or drift into meta A fulsome and satisfying read. He is old-fashioned in the way he makes the reader feel like an ally of the narrator, or author himself sometimes, from an omniscient perspective, and then slipping in a more modern way into the thoughts, perceptions, and feelings of the characters. Beyond morality tales of the likes of Dickens, he has that modern balance of humor and pathos like in novels of Bellow and Updike. Tragicomedies that don’t really go over the top like Tom Wolfe does or drift into meta spaces like Irving is wont to do with his family sagas. Yes, Frazen has surprises, but his restraint stands out in this age of weird experimental fiction. This the story of Patty and Walter as they start out in suburbia in St. Paul, he a local from rural Swedish Lutheran stock and she an errant daughter of wealthy academics in Philadelphia. He trained as a lawyer and works for environmental causes, initially with a nature conservancy and at this time with a foundation making a deal with a coal company to create a park for songbird habitat. Patty is a former basketball jock assuming the role of full-time housewife and mother. She suffers isolation from Walter’s all-consuming work and poor fit of her granola-crunching, tree-hugger attitudes with the crassly consumerist, conservative yuppies of their neighborhood. Walter’s efforts in engaging an old friend of theirs, Richard, now a rising rock musician, for promotion of the devil’s deal he is working on, awakens an old love interest in Patty for Richard and the bohemian love of life he represents. Meanwhile, Walter is trying his best to resist the charms of his brainy and gorgeous young assistant, an Indian-American named Lalitha. All these characters are fully drawn and undergo substantial development over the course of the novel that kept my intense interest. The kids have substantial air play too, drawing out the intergenerational aspect of the pervasive dysfunction virus of the American family. Their daughter is a daddy’s girl and headed for a good college but pretty much a blank slate, while the son that Patty favors, Joey, rebels against Walter’s authority and judgements against him over the his exploitive morality, most evident in his money making schemes. Joey breaks their heart by pulling a radical move at 15 in exiting their home and moving into their Republican neighbor’s house and into the bed of their older teen-aged daughter. His later shenanigans at college are fun to follow in their outrageousness, including a corrupt military procurement scheme and crass manipulations to bed the most wealthy and beautiful woman he can find while keeping his childhood girlfriend on the hook. The themes of the tale relate to how Walter and Patty use their freedom to make meaning of their lives and do whatever it takes to preserve their marriage or to scrap it for something better. And to the freedom a parent must confer to their children for forging their own life. There is also the struggles the children must undergo to use this freedom wisely. No doubt inquiring minds can discern more meat in the extended interwoven stories of these characters. We can’t quite love these people because of their twisted values and moral choices, but they come to feel for me as a reader like the family we can’t help but invest concerns for. Thus, they aren’t quite subjects to laugh at. Still, there is plenty of satire and parody here, but this humor is targeted at the status of the society and the culture all around the characters, including consumerism, sexism, the military industrial complex, mining exploitation, and hypocrisies within the environmental movement. If you can hold your moral judgments of the characters in abeyance over the course of this long novel you will be rewarded with a satisfactory resolution of the characters’ fates. The world may still be going to hell in a handbasket, but some integrity and resilience in them evolves in their Darwinian threshing, enough for the reader to extrapolate some hope for our society.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brent Legault

    Shamelessly conventional, both in style (especially in style) and subject. Packed with adverbs. Multitudes of awkward passages. Lacking in musicality. Poetryless. Written as if English were a tool rather than an instrument. Super shrill -- three of the four main characters seem to speak and even think at only the highest volume. There are no conversations, only arguments. Timid of mystery and everything is explained. Chock full of contemporary zzzzzzzz trivia and contemporary zzzzzzz culture. At Shamelessly conventional, both in style (especially in style) and subject. Packed with adverbs. Multitudes of awkward passages. Lacking in musicality. Poetryless. Written as if English were a tool rather than an instrument. Super shrill -- three of the four main characters seem to speak and even think at only the highest volume. There are no conversations, only arguments. Timid of mystery and everything is explained. Chock full of contemporary zzzzzzzz trivia and contemporary zzzzzzz culture. At times, I felt like I was reading a foreigner's attempt -- from someplace where English is native but poorly practiced, say, Hong Kong or Australia -- to write The Great American Novel and that he gleaned all of his "facts" from movies, tv and wikipedia. It's not so much that the "facts" were wrong, it's that they resembled painted props, wheeled into scenes to lend them "authenticity," wielded without finesse, sometimes even falling over on top of unsuspecting characters, characters who didn't have a clue that their phony world was crashing down on them. The whole novel, in fact, makes a better bludgeon than a book. As a bludgeon, it has heft. As a book, it is as weightless and as relevant as a Cerulean Warbler.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Watkins

    The only freedom Franzen’s characters have is the freedom to turn back into the various prisons of their familial lives. This is the power inherent in his work and also its limitation. There is something profound about his recognition of this predicament, but also something trite. It is as if he can not let his characters, and by extension actual people in the world, have any kind of freedom that he himself is incapable of apprehending. Franzen’s own anxieties and neuroses suffuse this novel, in The only freedom Franzen’s characters have is the freedom to turn back into the various prisons of their familial lives. This is the power inherent in his work and also its limitation. There is something profound about his recognition of this predicament, but also something trite. It is as if he can not let his characters, and by extension actual people in the world, have any kind of freedom that he himself is incapable of apprehending. Franzen’s own anxieties and neuroses suffuse this novel, in fact they almost suffocate it and the reader; but, again, this is his power and a tribute to his skills as a storyteller. And what a wonderful storyteller he is! This book just zips along in one’s hands and in one’s mind. It is richly imagined and efficiently executed. It has best seller written all over it; which, again, is its power and its limitation. I have not been so conflicted by complicated responses to a novel in a long while, and it has made me aware of my own limitations in evaluating such a novel, essentially a familial drama, as I rarely read such books and for all I know there are scores of similar books on the market, some probably much better than Freedom. But Freedom is the one I read, no doubt due to publicity campaigns and whatnot, so it is the one I will respond to. Franzen’s professional life, if not his personal life, is clearly charmed, by evidence of the fact that I even read it. This book dredged up and forced me to confront many buried ideas and memories, not the least of which was my entire college experience. In fact the book made me think of my college life, rather than my current adult life, more than anything. I think this is because Franzen’s characters are shaped by college and all that it means, particularly college as career (and thus life and identity) shaper. But that is exactly what I recoiled from in my own college experience. College for me was an evaporator of social expecations: I entered as a future surgeon (as expected due to my abilities and intelligence), and I exited telling everyone I was off to be a beekeeper (ie dropout). Franzen does not seem to comprehend a character such as me, which I will quickly and limitedly self-define as an elusive loser who secretly knows he’s a winner. Even Franzen’s losers make a career of it, which could partly be explained by the inability of said losers to ever get out of the expectations of their family’s spotlight. Which again brings up the prisons that they all inhabit, and are ever trying to escape from. Which again brings up his limitations, at least in Freedom. Franzen himself is in a prison, and from that prison attempted to write a great novel rivalling the great ones of the 19th century: Tolstoy specifically. And I admire his ambition, so even his failure to do so is in his favor, as even that failure emphasizes the various failures of his characters, making the novel itself as arrogant and fragile as I suspect Franzen himself is. But it does not make it what I consider “great literature”. It is still a social novel very much of the times, and however compulsively readable it is it is not necessarily of universal significance, because, again, it is limited by Franzen’s own mind and its inherent anxieties and neuroses (as are all novels I suppose). The problem is that Franzen’s mind is not particularly capacious. Sure he has an impressive grasp of how private investments link in to the US War Machine, and how business interests in general inform so many actions and behaviors, and his understanding of family dynamics (at least white upper middle class family dynamics) is very impressive; but so much of his knowledge, beyond the emotional knowledge culled from his own experience, feels like so much book or newspaper knowledge. His understanding of social dynamics and “local flavor” is sometimes no deeper the results of a Gallup Poll. There’s an over-reliance on statistics. Which, again, is his power and his limitation, as so many of our “leaders” have the same limitations, and the power to impose the results of those limitations on others. At one level we do all live in prisons devised by our political “leaders”, and many of us are plagued by familial expectations and obligations and thus live in those prisons too; but I for one do not generally care about these prisons, and comport myself as if they do not exist (call me self-delusional I don’t care!). One thing I have learned from years of thought and reflection is that Freedom (the capital “F” meaning profound and true) is actually inherent in our very nature and not something that we should spend a lifetime frutilessly trying to obtain “out there” in the professional or political arena. Franzen’s novel does not have this inner realm that I am talking about. Franzen’s entire book takes place in the blinding light of limited social consciousness, which is admirable, but doomed from the get go. Which in itself might make the book more universal than I imagine, as I’m probably the eccentric one, while Franzen is the average guy. Franzen wants very badly to transcend his own limitations, and he tries impressively and mightily, and there is a real compassion for his characters and their predicaments in evidence, but his real power lies in his inabiltiy to transcend them. If he had actually presented an answer to how to achieve freedom, ie Freedom, his novel would have suffered. Franzen’s limitations are his power.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    I loved this book. Could not put it down. What made it so compelling for me was Franzen's acute psychological eye, his ability to get inside family dynamics and deconstruct relationships, to create tension and suspense through the ways we get along with each other. And don't. Patty is a gifted athlete growing up in a family that doesn't value athletics. When she's raped at 17, her mother makes an effort to say the proper things but sells her out to advance her political career. Patty has the I loved this book. Could not put it down. What made it so compelling for me was Franzen's acute psychological eye, his ability to get inside family dynamics and deconstruct relationships, to create tension and suspense through the ways we get along with each other. And don't. Patty is a gifted athlete growing up in a family that doesn't value athletics. When she's raped at 17, her mother makes an effort to say the proper things but sells her out to advance her political career. Patty has the wildly uneven ego of someone who knows she's "a star" but considers herself flawed, boring, and unworthy. This makes her vulnerable to predatory relationships and a bit of a predator herself (her relationship with her son is a vivid and sympathetic depiction of emotional incest). Patty faces the age-old dilemma of the safe, sweet guy (her husband) vs the sexy bad guy (a rock musician). This is further complicated by the fact that husband Walter and rock dude Richard are lifelong best friends, and engaged in a complicated rivalry that finds its ultimate expression through Patty. Meanwhile Walter tries to save the environment by colluding with the forces that are destroying it, and their son does his best to turn himself into a "heartless capitalist bastard" even though he can't quite break up with his high school girlfriend or kill off his dawning realization that he has a conscience. All these characters struggle with their effort to be 'good' and their freedom to be otherwise, but ultimately their identities are so bound up with each other that they're perhaps not as free as they realize -- and this, Franzen seems to suggest, might be what saves us.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    It's not a deal breaker for me, but if you are someone who is emotionally wedded to liking the characters in a book, or even one of the characters, you might want to steer clear of this novel. That is not to say the author doesn't get it right. His talent comes through loud and clear with the layered and nuanced Patty and Walter Berglund, kids Joey and Jessica, family friend Richard Katz and others. Shallow, vain, self-loathing, whining individuals full of personal pathos. Personal liberties It's not a deal breaker for me, but if you are someone who is emotionally wedded to liking the characters in a book, or even one of the characters, you might want to steer clear of this novel. That is not to say the author doesn't get it right. His talent comes through loud and clear with the layered and nuanced Patty and Walter Berglund, kids Joey and Jessica, family friend Richard Katz and others. Shallow, vain, self-loathing, whining individuals full of personal pathos. Personal liberties versus civil liberties, the heady freedom of a kid turning 18 years old versus a mother's newfound freedom with the children raised and out of the house. Friendships, despair, loss of hope. The writing here captures it all, but in the end, I was relieved to have finished it rather than wishing it would go on. Way too heavy on the politics for my taste.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom LA

    Let's talk for a second about Ego. I think this is the perfect place to do that. First of all, because Ego is a thing that we avid readers and writers are very generously gifted with. Second, because Mr Franzen's Ego can only be compared to something like Mt Everest. No: let's do Jupiter. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Ego as a bad thing per se. It just comes with the package in the very first years of your life, giving you a strong personality, opinions, leadership, and often some basic Let's talk for a second about Ego. I think this is the perfect place to do that. First of all, because Ego is a thing that we avid readers and writers are very generously gifted with. Second, because Mr Franzen's Ego can only be compared to something like Mt Everest. No: let's do Jupiter. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Ego as a bad thing per se. It just comes with the package in the very first years of your life, giving you a strong personality, opinions, leadership, and often some basic arrogance, entitlement, and a disproportionate sense of your own importance. Among the obsessive reviewers here, he who is without sin, please go ahead and cast the first stone.  * *  moment of silence * *  Moving on - I've seen and read some interviews with Franzen, and yes, he does come across as an author who believes his books are incredibly important. Important to America (Freedom!). Important to the world. It's not difficult to perceive this self-importance in the book itself, either, so I perfectly understand the readers who (perhaps pushed over the edge by that astonishingly irritating Times cover, or by the deluge of foam-at-the-mouth praising reviews for this book) decided to hate Franzen from the start.   I was one of them, for sure. I was ready to shout: "soap opera!", whatever story Franzen was going to tell me. So, in short, I started by really not wanting to like this book. And my mission received a strong help by the first 200 pages, where Franzen presents Patty, one of the most difficult and unpleasant charachters of the book, in a sort of autobiographical memoir written by herself. Her cold, selfish attitude is made even uglier by the cynicism and negativity and hopelessness that permeate this first portion of the book. Just so negative. But then, when I was just moments from condemning Franzen to never-ending hatred, some magic happened. The portion about another character, Katz, started, and I realized that the tone of the first 200 pages was just a partial act. A trick, maybe. Franzen, like a chamaleon, propels us forward into the world of Katz, the rock musician, and the register changes completely. I was very impressed by that, actually. And then again, the narrating voice develops, evolves, and keeps changing depending on the perspective and point of view. A wonderful ear.  He actually did something similar in "The Corrections", where he used the initial part of the novel almost as an obstacle for the reader, to overcome and then slide into the rest of it. But the difficult part was much shorter there.  The interview with Katz about the state of music is a little masterwork. Just like his first interaction with Walter and Lalitha.  Franzen's writing style is extremely clever, elegant and unsentimental, a little too cold, mental and cerebral for my personal taste, almost chilling in his acute, poignant, accurate, objective, hyper-rational observations and descriptions. More than once, while reading this book, I thought of that quote by (someone): "If we spent our life constantly looking at reality the way it actually is, we would go absolutely mad in a very short time". P.S. I think it's actually a line from ­Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground: “I swear to you, gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.” There is a risk inherent in describing everything through words, and rationalizing reality too much: that you end up missing the point. Missing the heart, the emotions, the human perspective, what really matters. Similarly, there is a limit to thinking, beyond which it becomes just a painful excercise in analysis and dissolution of reality in smaller and smaller pieces, until you find either sublime madness (as above) or nothing at all (the terrifying emptiness at the very center of the onion).  Franzen's ambition is so huge it's almost childish. He set out to write with a mission, and the mission was to go straight to the heart of America (Freedom). Sounds like he wants to be a Great Writer, like Tolstoj or Hugo. Someone who actually changes the world, someone who has an IMPACT on society. And he does undoubtetly have an impact, because his books sell millions of copies, however I'm afraid to say, it is probably a much less "serious" impact than what he might think. People read Franzen because they love to read, or because they just want to be entertained, maybe by something smart with a little bit of thinking too, but not because they want to change anything, the world, or (especially!) themselves. Yes, there is always a little seed that might stay with you, but then even a pop song can leave a seed in you, or a movie, and today we have just too many freaking seeds to be properly receptive to any one of them. We just move on to the next one. As important as it might be, it is all, at the end of the day, entertainment.  In other words, it seems like Franzen is unable to apply that immense ability for cold razor-sharp objectivity to himself - his own role as a writer. I would say: Relax! It's just a book! But of course, that is the whole point of being a very good writer. You Do Not Relax.  Finally, I disagree with the comment made by some reviewers that the novel falls quickly into the soap opera realm. This novel deserves more attention. I am a very slow reader, and I think it was a good thing with this book. No soap opera is as complex, intelligent, and ambitious as this novel. On the other hand, many novels would look like soap operas if read at the speed of light. Overall - an impressive, brilliant, complex, sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, extremely well-written novel about the life of an American couple. my wonderful blog is here

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I read this in slightly less than 24 hours and am currently nursing the most painful kind of book hangover. You know the old how can this be over? how can I possible follow this up? did I really sit up reading this until 4 am? sort of feeling. Freedom really is that good, good in that way that you will so absorbed while reading it that it won't even occur to you how good it was until you hate to turn the last page. Anyway, I'll save the longer review for a few weeks. In the meantime, enjoy it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    It seems ironically bold yet appropriate for a contemporary novelist to explore relevant American social issues through the artistic lens of undiluted realism. Within the context of a dying book industry, one desperately trying to convince consumers that fiction is still an appealing, worthwhile commodity to invest their time and money in, it’s often better to play it safe and tug on heartstrings and connect, than to fuss around with experimentation in the interest of moving things forward. And It seems ironically bold yet appropriate for a contemporary novelist to explore relevant American social issues through the artistic lens of undiluted realism. Within the context of a dying book industry, one desperately trying to convince consumers that fiction is still an appealing, worthwhile commodity to invest their time and money in, it’s often better to play it safe and tug on heartstrings and connect, than to fuss around with experimentation in the interest of moving things forward. And really: just how much forward momentum does the American novel have left? Jonathan Franzen seems to possess the answer to this question, as shown by his earnest, populist stance on what makes great fiction accessible. He's espoused these views in various personal essays, but his values as a novelist really seem to rise to the surface in his fiction. In his latest novel, Freedom, he continues to press forward with this stance, following up on his previous chronicle of American life in the 90’s, The Corrections, with yet another poignant look at the disintegration of the American family. Set a decade after The Corrections, Freedom is set in the upper middle-class milieu of Ramsey Hill located in St. Paul, Minnesota. Patty, a once promising college basketball star – a unique female equivalent of Rabbit Angstrom of John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy – of a wealthy New York background, is the wife of Walter Berglund, an obsessive environmentalist, 3M employee, and descendant of a blue-collar, Swedish family. We immediately hear of their son Joey, an aspiring republican; a young man, being raised in St. Paul who, “had received numberless assurances that his life was to be a lucky one.” Joey moves in with his neighbors, the Monaghans, a nasty caricature of people with no taste and a good deal of money, and begins sleeping with their daughter as the end of high school approaches. The Berglunds' daughter Jessica, a marginal character in the scope of this epic narrative, takes a few cues from her father’s idealism: she’s a multiculturalist with a strong aversion to the war in Iraq, prone to level-headed decision making and practical living. Franzen entices the reader with the family’s domestic woes before their move to Georgetown, anticipating the dissolution of the couples' marriage, before taking the narrative back to Patty’s childhood and teenage years with the aid of a memoir she wrote at the suggestion of her therapist. Patty’s story, entitled Mistake Were Made, sets the tone for Freedom, regaling the reader with a typically American chronicle of a young woman from an affluent background, torn between the equally appealing, yet diametrically opposed, teenage universes of athletics and artistic self-discovery. In college, she meets Eliza, a self-absorbed train wreck who turns her on to The Velvet Underground and poetry. Patty doesn't immerse herself in Eliza's bohemian lifestyle directly, it's more like she passes through it as a cultural tourist. Through Eliza, she in turn meets a narcissistic rock star by the name of Richard Katz. Initially drawn in by Katz’ predictably liberal sexual views, she meets his less impressive, demure friend Walter, who seems to be more interested in arthouse films and overpopulation issues than he is with getting laid. Patty begins spending more time with Walter, while pining for Richard, and their relationship slowly develops into a reluctant, loveless marriage. This quirky third person narrative (narrated by that very same person) sets the tone for a novel tumescent with emotional disappointment, deceit, and shameless narcissism. Only till later in the story do Patty’s indiscretions with Richard catch up to her, as Walter tries in vain to sustain a marriage that was doomed from the outset. Her son Joey’s sexually precocious, yet emotionally inept approach to his relationship with Connie Monaghan follows a similar pattern at the beginning, at least up until the point at which he manages to avoid actively pursuing the same deceitful mistakes that his mother made. Meanwhile, Jessica finds herself unable to find a suitable New York boy while in college. What she does manage to do is continue in the level-headed, ambitious footsteps of her father. There is much socio-political commentary tacked on to these more personal dramas. Joey, in rebellion against his father’s soft liberalism, attempts to win the affection of his best friend's materialistic sister, explore his belatedly discovered Jewish heritage, and eventually tries his hand at success as a contractor for a Haliburtonesque security outfit. Walter teams up with Vin Haven, a Texas politician with ties to the Bush family, starting a mountain top removal project in Charleston, West Virginia convinced that this will aid saving a species of bird called the cerulean mountain warbler from extinction. Both of their endeavors backfire with devastating moral repercussions. Freedom is a novel that invests much of its metaphorical significance in the various ideologies of its characters, and how these respective ideologies affect the way that we live in the world. Patty is a seemingly nihilistic malcontent with little to no concern for the people she hurts throughout her quest for personal happiness. Walter’s idealism reaches almost schizophrenic heights of fixation, anger, and paranoia, as he constantly fails to acknowledge that the evil aspects of American consumer culture aren’t part of such a black and white duality. In Joey’s angst and disdain, he treats Connie Monaghan in virtually the same way that Patty treated Walter, and Jessica exhausts all hope of personal happiness as she struggles to remain exert control on every aspect of her life. While the trials and tribulations of these characters prove effective in shedding light on some of the more selfish aspects of the American economy and its political climate at the beginning of this century, they are also slightly myopic because they come across as the author’s personal frustrations with contemporary culture. Walter and Richard’s conversations – as they revel in their own hipness and political profundity - in front of Patty sound like an exhibitionistic portrayal of Franzen’s college days, reveling in earnest, yet naive, dissent. Many of Walter’s rants about the increasingly greedy and stupid culture surrounding him, as well as his ornithological passions (Franzen is a noted bird enthusiast), sound too much like an explosion of suppressed reactions to topical news headlines that Franzen has had over the years. If anything, this is the one caveat to what is an otherwise expertly told story of the pain and difficulty of raising a family in contemporary America. Franzen is a gifted storyteller, one with a knack for mellifluous pacing. The narrative has that flow and engaging character development that one might discover in some of the more cinematic innovations of televised meldorama. His characters, while occasionally loathsome, seem too much like self-projections of his personal dissatisfaction with the world, albeit he manages to create relevant plights that many readers will find accessible. After the era of Cheever and Updike, it’s impressive that he can work within a realist’s range, and still make it sound fresh. It’s difficult to overlook the safeness of his works though. Freedom is a heartbreaking page-turner; an engrossing exploration of our post 9/11 daily realities as a country, and while this is certainly nothing to frown at, it doesn't seem like much to get excited about either.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paltia

    Write the wrongs or do I mean right the wrongs? Sometimes I felt like a voyeur reading about such private behaviour. A close up look at families, loyalties, infidelities and freedom. The freedom to make many mistakes. These characters operate as if just when they thought they had things all sorted out holes appear in their logic. They’re trapped. They’re ambushed by their needs and stupidity. They are repeatedly looking for ways around their dead ends. There will always be problems with what Write the wrongs or do I mean right the wrongs? Sometimes I felt like a voyeur reading about such private behaviour. A close up look at families, loyalties, infidelities and freedom. The freedom to make many mistakes. These characters operate as if just when they thought they had things all sorted out holes appear in their logic. They’re trapped. They’re ambushed by their needs and stupidity. They are repeatedly looking for ways around their dead ends. There will always be problems with what they do. It’s almost as if there’s rogue forces at work that holds them hostage to their foolish oversights. In their youth they, like many of us, failed to acknowledge there would be difficulties in the future and suddenly here they are. As they questioned how to work their way out of each sticky situation I kept right along reading. Not a one of them is infallible. It takes some of them longer than others to realize this. Franzen has told a story about people who irritate and make the reader uncomfortable. Yet there is something both deeply human and comic in their flawed characters. A story of the cyclical nature of life with all the failures and triumphs it contains.

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

    Scattered observations: *Writers probably can't ever ditch certain fundamental aspects of their style. With DFW it's the slightly manic, ever-looping association of ideas as his brain connects his current thought to stuff you would never have imagined. Franzen seems unable to dodge the unevenness trap - brilliant for long stretches, interspersed with material that is either preachy, superfluous, or both. *Less powerful than "The Corrections" because his characters are less universal. Arguably they Scattered observations: *Writers probably can't ever ditch certain fundamental aspects of their style. With DFW it's the slightly manic, ever-looping association of ideas as his brain connects his current thought to stuff you would never have imagined. Franzen seems unable to dodge the unevenness trap - brilliant for long stretches, interspersed with material that is either preachy, superfluous, or both. *Less powerful than "The Corrections" because his characters are less universal. Arguably they are all stand-ins for Franzen's own concerns and insecurities. Which are not uninteresting. But neither are they super-interesting. *Why are they all so uptight? Even when kicking over the traces, nobody seems to be having much fun. *So much emphasis on life's constraints and limitations. A "great" book/author should leave us with a heightened sense of life's possibilities? (Should it?) *Despite the superficially broad canvas, at the 400-page mark it feels really, really claustrophobic. *Clear pluses - writing is smooth; invariably, just when you feel you'll never get out of a particular dull patch, Franzen delivers something that's not just good, but kind of awesome. It's hard to provide a coherent summary. In its favor, "Freedom" is a very enjoyable read, it's structured very smartly (though this is obvious only in retrospect), and benefits from Franzen's ability to nail aspects of the culture with enviable precision. Its mixture of small-scale concerns (the Berglund family dynamics) with larger societal issues is laudable, ambitious, not entirely successful, but certainly a worthy and interesting effort. It does suffer from some of the Franzen tics mentioned above. The variation in quality (some characters are superbly realized, others remain flat), occasional bloating (Franzen's particular hobby-horses relating to the environment and population control get quite a workout), and restriction in focus (to a very narrow section of white, upper middle class intellectuals and their concerns) prevent it from being a great novel. There's also that sense of claustrophobia, bordering on joylessness, that hangs over much of the central part of the book, though this is mitigated somewhat towards the end, which was surprisingly powerful and quite moving. It is, nonetheless, a very good novel. Franzen cannot be blamed for the extraordinary hype that it has generated, and it shouldn't be held against him. Though I don't think "Freedom" quite matched the brilliance of "The Corrections", it's still one of the best books you're likely to come across this year.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shelly

    A friend of mine loaned me this book via Nook's "Lend Me" option which is both gay and retarded. I didn't realize at the time (neither of us did) that the book is only on loan for 14 days and can only be loaned once. So what happened was, I didn't finish. I had about 150 pages left when I got a very rude alert telling me, essentially, to have a good day. Anyway, the ending that I did not read and have no idea about may have compelled me to give this one three stars, but as I have no desire to A friend of mine loaned me this book via Nook's "Lend Me" option which is both gay and retarded. I didn't realize at the time (neither of us did) that the book is only on loan for 14 days and can only be loaned once. So what happened was, I didn't finish. I had about 150 pages left when I got a very rude alert telling me, essentially, to have a good day. Anyway, the ending that I did not read and have no idea about may have compelled me to give this one three stars, but as I have no desire to finish it and couldn't manage even to finish in two weeks (of no work), I figured I'd settle on two. Here is what I know from the 350 odd pages that I did manage to read (CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!): This book is about a yuppie couple who have a couple of kids [image error] Turns out their marriage sucks [image error] Wife always wanted to have sex w/ hubby's best friend [image error] Hubby's best friend, like most of the characters in this book, is unlikable Uber-liberal couple end up raising a Republican son that hates their guts (for reasons that aren't clearly identified) [image error] Uber-liberal couple's daughter isn't mentioned much Wife cheats on hubby w/ asshole rocker best friend; hubby cheats on wife with young indian homewrecker Characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical. Author praised as someone with insight into "American Experience." Don't get it. Not trying to be a Franzen hater, never even heard of the guy until my friend e-lended me her copy. Read some reviews on here today and realized people are hot or cold over the guy. Put me in the cold camp, please.

  29. 5 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Frank, honest, sad yet not in any way melodramatic. These are, for me, what make Freedom stands out from the other American contemporary novels that emphatically talk about dysfunctional families without eliciting reactions from your tear ducts. Franzen made a lot of sense when he expressed his concern over the inclusion of The Corrections among Oprah's books because most of Oprah’s books are told in the point of view of women and so they are womanly in perspectives and so they are read mostly Frank, honest, sad yet not in any way melodramatic. These are, for me, what make Freedom stands out from the other American contemporary novels that emphatically talk about dysfunctional families without eliciting reactions from your tear ducts. Franzen made a lot of sense when he expressed his concern over the inclusion of The Corrections among Oprah's books because most of Oprah’s books are told in the point of view of women and so they are womanly in perspectives and so they are read mostly by women. Franzen’s storytelling is direct, cerebral and not in any way squeamish when it comes to sex, sexual organs and sexual acts. These in-your-face 21st-century yet sensible frankness differentiates him from other male authors delving in the same theme - American family - like Pat Conroy or Wally Lamb. For example is this part when Walter is preparing for a day after having sex with his mistress-assistant Lalitha:”It would have been useful to be able to add that there was nothing between him and his assistant, but in fact, his hands and face and nose were so impregnated with the smell of her vagina that it persisted faintly even after showering.” Glorious. Heavenly. I mean the prose. To say that Freedom is just about a dysfunctional family is an oversimplification of this novel's theme. My take is that it is more of a marital journey of the Berglund couple, Walter and Patty, and how their marriage affects the marriage of their son, Joey, to their neighbor’s daughter, Connie and her family. The mistakes made in the previous generation affect the next ones. The things we saw in our parents, we try to recreate with our kids. There is no school for parenting. All of us, parents, went into it, without any classroom lectures. We thought that since we came out okay, if we use the same formula our parents used to us, our kids would turn out okay too. Little did we know that things change and what we saw in our parents might no longer be applicable for us to use to our children. “When I was your age…” becomes our opening statement in every guidance session we have with our kids, only to hear from them “Things have changed, daddy.” Like The Corrections, Franzen presents the family amidst the changing world: politics, trade, culture and global terrorism. I thought that I would not see anything new until Franzen made us of the environmental issues as his very novel backdrop. The way that he interwoven these – simple American family, global and local issues plus the environment – is so brilliant you can’t help but admire his storytelling prowess that is so distinctly Franzen. When I read in Wiki that President Obama read this book during his last summer break, I believed it. This book is worth reading by every American citizen who wants to be inspired by the story of this Berglund couple. Oh, there is nothing grandiose or extraordinary about them. They are just your typical married Americans. But it will give you that feeling that what you are going through in your life is not something that you go through alone. Also, the story ends at the beginning of Obama administration so everything was positive and hopeful. Now if only there is a similar book that deals about Filipino families. Argggh.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    God, I saw Jonathan in person at Christ's church Cathedral. Over 800 people there. I got my book signed,and when we first talked, I said "Hey" and he said "Hey" back. Cool Dude. We talked about how I got a copy of Time with his picture on the cover. I had tried to find a copy in the store with no luck, so a friend of mine, I had mentioned that to, stole a copy from her eye doctor's office. I told Jonathan about that,and he smirked and kinda chuckled,and signed my books, and the cover of the God, I saw Jonathan in person at Christ's church Cathedral. Over 800 people there. I got my book signed,and when we first talked, I said "Hey" and he said "Hey" back. Cool Dude. We talked about how I got a copy of Time with his picture on the cover. I had tried to find a copy in the store with no luck, so a friend of mine, I had mentioned that to, stole a copy from her eye doctor's office. I told Jonathan about that,and he smirked and kinda chuckled,and signed my books, and the cover of the magazine. He read outloud from his book reading a scene about masturbation, and read it in the church, with no reservations, and that got some quiet laughter in the background. The book is funny thus far,and I am going to comment more after I've finished it. More later..........I added more to my review in the comments. Thought it was a great book,and meeting Jonathan in person was truly amazing. Now I suggest DICKENS for the holidays. Oprah picked both A TALE OF TWO CITIES,AND GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Great books,and right now I am enjoying A CHRISTMAS CAROL again, my annual holiday read! Gary

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