I’ve been wrestling for a while with this post. I had about two paragraphs written but realized they were nothing but plot recaps and scrapped the whole thing. A gentleman who reads this blog visited the store yesterday. His only question was what did I think of Freedom? After all, I did finish it a while ago.
Like Franzen himself, Freedom is polarizing. Great American novelist or overrated hack? Great American novel, or seriously grating
I’m usually a cynic about that kind of praise, but I think Franzen
isn’t overrated, or at least not by much. Freedom is truly great.
Saying I loved it doesn’t really express how I felt about it, though.
It’s a little more complicated than that.
I certainly didn’t love all of the characters–Walter with his grating niceness, self absorbed Patty, their son Joey who I mainly wanted to punch, and the whiny daughter who isn’t as important to the story for some reason. Yet grew affectionate about them and was happy in the end with the lives Franzen created for them. With Franzen you always spend a lot of time frustrated with his characters, but it pays off.
Freedom is a great book. I’m betting that it will become a classic, at least I hope it does. Ignore all the stuff being said about the author. Just read the book for what it is, a novel about the absurdities of modern American life. Hopefully you like it as much as I did.
So what’s the payoff? Not more absurdist ennui, I hope?
(I’m sincerely curious.)
I’ve been amazed at the animosity levelled at Franzen. Reading the reviews of the novel have been inspiring. If the book is half as stunning as the praise it is receiving, all book lovers should be happy that such a book exists.
I look forward to reading it.
Great review. I might try reading Freedom; I wasn’t overwhelmed by the Corrections but hopefully I’ll be more into this one
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Love your blog!
Thought you might be interested in my blog. I run a collaborative blog – DysfunctionalBeginnings.com. Literary works about growing up, family, and beginnings in general (expressed in a variety of mediums!) Submissions go to email@example.com.
Let me know what you think!
Thanks for your support…
For sure, I’ll try the pasta…don’t have much appetite for Franzen, though. Hope all is good there in Boston. Tough year for our Bosox, but, jeez, with all the injuries, they hung in pretty well. Cheers…Martin
I was surprised at my anger after I read David Brooks criticism of Freedom in the New York Times last week. I thought about my response for a couple of days and wrote a letter to the editor. By that time, of course it was too late to get it published, but here it is:
To the Editor:
David Brooks argues that Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom portrays a soulless America, devoid of religion, patriotism, or anything ennobling (Op-Ed Sept. 21). I believe Mr. Brooks’ reading experience would be enriched if he joined one of those book clubs about which he is so dismissive. Here are my suggestions for Mr. Brooks’ hypothetical book club: What does Walter’s love of song birds represent? Who or what helps him attain a modicum of success as an environmentalist after a devastating failure? The novel portrays parents who fail or wrong their children. How do the children learn as adults to forgive or at least understand their parents’ failings? How do the main characters achieve freedom from anger, envy, greed, contempt, crippling guilt, and despair? My point is that it is Mr. Brooks reading of Freedom that is morally impoverished—not Mr. Franzen’s vision of America.
I actually had the same level of difficulty in writing about this book; it’s difficult to state exactly what’s wrong with it, and there is a lot that’s wonderful about it.
I actually am of the belief that there is a lot of greatness in the book, but it’s poorly served by lazy editing. It nears perfection, if only parts of it were cut.