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Freedom: A Novel

A book by Jonathan Franzen

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"Success at sports is the province of the almost empty head."

  • Aug 31, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+3
I will avoid the plot review, because so many others seem compelled to summarize, and the repetition becomes tiresome. I enjoyed this novel, and I think you will too. I gave it four stars because it is not perfect, but it is better than most current fiction. Franzen may be a "serious" writer, but he is also highly readable, with an interesting story that can be enjoyed for itself alone, absent any considerations of literary aspirations.

This is a big, rambling tale of modern Americans in their modern lives, people who reminded me of real people, a plot which kept me turning the pages of this compulsively readable, mostly entertaining novel. The tone is slightly condescending, as the quote above my review would suggest, mostly cynical, and ultimately hopeful by the end of the story, when his battered, bruised and bruising characters emerge from the wreckage of their lives, and bravely carry on.

In many ways this novel is similar to his previous work, The Corrections. I remember enjoying that novel a few years back, although I could not understand why the critics raved about it. Franzen proves yet again that he is a very good writer, building a complicated but workable plot, creating characters who are real, complex and often disappointing, showing us his American self-portrait in 2010. He reaches for a big theme, as the title implies, but he doesn't quite achieve his goal of demontrating the illusory nature of our freedom (or alternatively that all this freedom is killing us). Like Sophocles, Franzen seems to take a dim view of freedom. I probably should not compare Franzen to Sophocles, or other great writers, past or present. He has a genuine voice, a straightforward style, but he does not possess lyrical abilities, nor great thematic breadth. His writing style is similar to Paul Murray's, serving up a cast of mostly unremarkable people who screw up their lives by means of their character defects, giving you a funny and sad slice of everyday life, saying something profound in the process.

Amazon reviewers were much less enamored with The Corrections than the professional reviewers: they gave only three stars on average, with almost as many one star reviews as five star. Franzen's self portraits are closer to the world of the publishing industry than the world of amazon readers. His characters are based in the Midwest, at least in the beginning of the novel, but they are not the American everyman or woman. They are highly educated, well read, socially evolved and spiritually lost in the manner of the wealthy white specimen liberalis americanus. This writing feels too focused upon their world to allow for universal appeal. Nevertheless, Freedom is a very well and carefully written novel. Only time itself will reveal if this is the work of the moment, or a work for all time.

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More Freedom: A Novel reviews
review by . September 09, 2010
I read "Freedom" in two days over the Labor Day weekend. I've structured this review in two parts - impressions that I jotted down while reading it, with a few paragraphs that try to provide a synthesis      Scattered observations:      *Writers probably can't ever ditch certain fundamental aspects of their style. With David Foster Wallace it's the slightly manic, ever-looping association of ideas as his brain connects his current thought …
review by . October 04, 2010
  Freedom has the two-and-a-half-dimensional feel of reality television. I enjoy reading it, but I'm not convinced that any of the characters (especially Patty) is really so good at taking punches. I read this book as I might Greek mythology. Franzen the jovial God, getting kicks out of kicking his characters but never quite believing any of them could ever really exist. I don't believe any of them could exist either, but then again, who cares?    It's definitely …
Quick Tip by . February 09, 2011
posted in Cage
I'm just not a Franzen fan. This is my second attempt and I can't find a toehold in his work. Am I the only one??
review by . February 10, 2011
posted in Cage
Too many of the pivotal scenes in Freedom have a ridiculousness to them. They are just real enough that the characters seem in earnest, but sufficiently unreal that they seem to be part of a joke. The book is infused with politics, but Freedom is never clear in revealing whether Franzen is trying to parody or to portray “intellectual” lefties who bungle basic economic ideas. Nor can I tell whether he is aiming for reality or satire with his “greedy” righties. The politics …
review by . October 04, 2010
Freedom is a big book. I liked it, but it is not perfect. Jonathan Franzen presents characters in difficult relationships. I developed an empathy for these characters reading this book. There is relationship between a husband and wife. There is another relationship between a father and a son. There is a relationship between a mother and her children. There is also a rivalry between friends in this novel.      These relationships are interesting to read, particularly the relationship …
review by . October 19, 2010
   Well remembered for his masterful readings of such titles as "Water For Elephants" and "The Second Horseman," David Ledoux gives a praiseworthy narration of FREEDOM, a story in which he's required to portray many characters. As has been said, "His voice inhabits the characters' psyches, sharing their loves, fears, and anxieties. Ledoux gives a vibrant performance, imbuing each character with a unique voice and tone." How true!     The winner of two AudioFile Earphones …
review by . September 16, 2010
Franzen's long-awaited fourth novel - it's been nine years since his National Book Award winning The Corrections - stands up to the anticipation. Mining similar territory - educated middle-class dysfunctional families - at pretty much the same length, Franzen uses his acerbic wit, unsparing insight, and deep sympathy to draw the reader into the fraught lives of his characters.    The book opens with an introductory portrait of the Berglunds, Patty and Walter; a summation of their …
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"Freedom"
is Oprah Winfrey's 64th pick for September and places Franzen in a special category: The rare author to have more than one book in her club, the first being "The Corrections" back in 2001. 

Amazon Best of the Month, August 2010: "The awful thing about life is this:" says Octave to the Marquis in Renoir'sRules of the Game. "Everyone has his reasons." That could be a motto for novelists as well, few more so than Jonathan Franzen, who seems less concerned with creating merely likeable characters than ones who are fully alive, in all their self-justifying complexity.Freedomis his fourth novel, and, yes, his first in nine years since The Corrections. Happy to say, it's very much a match for that great book, a wrenching, funny, and forgiving portrait of a Midwestern family (from St. Paul this time, rather than the fictional St. Jude). Patty and Walter Berglund find each other early: a pretty jock, focused on the court and a little lost off it, and a stolid budding lawyer, besotted with her and almost burdened by his integrity. They make a family and a life together, and, over time, slowly lose track of each other. Their stories align at times with Big Issues--among them mountaintop removal, war profiteering, and rock'n'roll--and in some ways can't be separated from them, but what you remember most are the characters, whom you grow to love the way families often love each other: not for their ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0374158460
ISBN-13: 978-0374158460
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date Published: August 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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