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Old 04-25-2016, 06:24 PM View Post #1 (Link) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
ScottyMcGee (Offline)
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I remember Jonathan Franzen appearing in an issue of Time Magazine a while ago when I was still in college. The article stated that the first greatest novel of the 21st Century was his book "Freedom." Intrigued, I went to buy Freedom, only to leave it on my shelf relatively untouched for five or six years.

Unfortunately I got the "Oprah Edition" - but thankfully it was just a little annoying sticker that I was able to remove. But I hate that shit. It's an obnoxious blemish on literature.

It's difficult to summarize succinctly what Freedom is about in an exciting pitch other than "It's about a Midwestern family." We follow the Berglunds: Walter and his wife Patty, their son Joey, and then Walter's old college friend Richard Katz. This novel has been touted as a Great American Novel, using the Bush Administration years from 2004 to 2008 as the setting.

Very dense. In the few times I tried reading this in the past, I never got past the first ten pages. Franzen tends to "tell" a lot rather than "show". There's so much summary. It's not badly written - not at all. But it's like watching an Oscar-winning film. Even though there's nothing really BAD about it you wouldn't want to watch it again because it's so tedious and long. It's only 597 pages, and we've all read books longer than that, but the content of a book is what makes it go by fast or slow. Freedom is definitely a slow run. The worst parts were when Franzen narrated on political, environmental and legal backgrounds; the character Walter gets involved in environmental and political issues. Honestly, there were a couple instances in which I just skipped paragraphs about those things.

At the same time though, if you can get past the heavy introduction, you'll get warped into the family drama of the Berglunds and their friend Katz. It certainly does live up to being the first Great American Novel of the 21st Century. Franzen has woven a wonderful cloth of neurotic, fucked up characters against a lush historical background of the shitstorm that was the Bush Administration. (It's funny seeing myself label it as a "historical background" since I grew up in those years, and most of you reading this too.) You relive those years, for better or for worse (let's admit it - for the worse) and what people generally argued about and how the nation became so polarized. Despite the dense prose, it is still very much entertaining and grabs your attention on the drama.

Nothing here is written in first-person, although Patty's chapters are written by her but she wrote in third-person. As a result, I feel like it was all just Franzen writing it, really. That's one complaint I have. Even though Patty's chapters were written by her, it felt no different than reading a chapter that followed Katz or Walter or Joey, except where she referenced herself as "the autobiographer".

One thing that came to me was that it's hard to say exactly where this story begins. In the conventional sense, as in from page 1 onwards, it begins with Joey detaching himself from his parents to live with their neighbors, since he's in love with their daughter. Patty detests their neighbors so much. But really there's a huge backstory with the parents that acts as a reason for why Patty reacts this way and how they all came to this point. The book later goes even further into the family history, albeit snippets. In the end, you feel like you yourself are a Berglund.

Halfway through the book, it becomes increasingly obvious that there are parallels between the parents and their son Joey. I think Franzen is trying to show how family history and experiences can repeat themselves, even when we believe we are not like our parents or not like our children.

I still enjoyed it. I would want to read it again later when I don't have so many other books waiting for me to read. I would also want to read it with my girlfriend when we both have the time because it's a great book to discuss with a friend or loved one.

If you're into Great American Novels and heavy literature, yeah, then read this. Otherwise, I don't think you'd find it in yourself to get through this. I'm not sure if I would call it THE greatest American Novel, which I've even seen some sources label it as such. It does a really good job at illustrating the liberal vs conservative backdrop that the characters interact with and are affected by.
Only thieves kiss with their eyes open.
						Last edited by ScottyMcGee; 04-25-2016 at 06:26 PM.
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