Friday, October 22, 2010
Freedom - Jonathan Franzen
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Quick Review: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Why I Read It: This is the book of the moment, the latest Great American Novel. Plus I liked The Corrections back in the day when Franzen was dissing Oprah
Where I Obtained the Book: I picked this up at my local public library.
Synopsis: Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul, the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter (environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man) she was doing her small part to build a better world. But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become a very different kind of neighbor an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes? 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 Freedom's characters 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.
Review: I liked this book. While I saw in reviews it had some deeper meanings about America in a post 9-11 world, this book worked for me as a dissection of a relationship, the story of a family. I believe that any two people who want to be together AND are committed to the relationship can succeed. Some of those relationships just take a hell of lot more work than others. This story delves into a relationship where one spouse, with the best of intentions, entered into the marriage without being committed. Patty Bergland sought to break free from confining parents, an abused past, a mentally ill best friend, and a frustrated life and married a nice guy who she didn't love 100 percent. Her husband spent his life energy trying to make up that difference until he just couldn't.
What I liked is just when you think Franzen had broken down the marriage to its component parts, he breaks it down even more. His ability to expose the core truth of a relationship and a family is what makes him a genius. I have seen where some people are made uncomfortable by Franzen's writing; or they dismiss it as puerile nonsense. I think it is because in some ways they can see the realities of their own relationships in it. The danger of becoming complacent with the others in our life and having them just slip away due to small negligences before they can be saved. A great marriage requires great work, every single day.
If you want a fantastic read and an on-target analysis of a family, then Freedom is for you.
His works include The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), Strong Motion (1992), How to Be Alone (2002), and The Discomfort Zone (2006). The Corrections (2001) won a National Book Award and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. He also won a Whiting Writers' Award in 1988 and the American Academy's Berlin Prize in 2000. He is also a frequent contributor to Harper's and The New Yorker.