Freedom: A Novel

Freedom: A Novel

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―outré 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.

Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374158460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374158460
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1,430 customer reviews)
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4 comments

  1. Negative reviews get no love on Amazon, but, having been thoroughly taken in by the glowing reviews in the NYT, Time, the Economist, etc., I feel compelled to add a voice of dissent and caution.

    I read and enjoyed The Corrections, so was looking forward to seeing what Franzen had been up to for the past 10 years. What he’s been up to is, essentially, rewriting The Corrections, but extracting all the humor that leavened the misanthropic bleakness of his vision in the earlier work. Once again we’re presented with an outwardly “perfect” nuclear Midwestern family that secretly consists of neurotic hysterics with low self-esteem who ultimately find themselves mired in infidelity and morally dubious business dealings. Once again the focus is on generational conflict, and the “sins of the fathers” revisited in the lives of the children.

    Besides the lack of originality, the problem, in essence, is this time out I don’t believe a single, solitary word of it. I don’t believe in liberal middle-class parents who’d let their teenage son move in with their obnoxious Republican neighbors. I don’t believe in a talented college athlete who’d let herself be hoodwinked for years by a ditzy, obsessive fan. I don’t believe in a committed environmentalist who’d sign off on strip mining vast tracts of virgin forest in the name of reclaiming those tracts many years afterwards for a single-species preserve. I don’t believe in a 19-year-old arms dealer making procurement purchases in Paraguay. I don’t believe in a couple who remain married, but utterly incommunicado, for 6 years. I don’t believe in a 47-year-old man with no religious convictions who is trying beer for the very first time, and is prone to bursting into tears on the least provocation. And that’s just for starters.Read more ›

  2. 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.Read more ›

  3. Excellent writing when dealing with the painfully intimate and intricate details of adolescence, marriage, childrearing, infidelity and romantic yearnings. In fact, it approaches the true-to-life fictional style used so successfully by Tom Wolfe in the “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and “A Man in Full.”

    Yet, this saga ominously hits a brick wall when it becomes enmeshed with any number of environomental, social and political issues (incluing mining and overpopulation) that seem to go on for far too long and which consume an excessive amount of time and space. Very “preachy”, didactic and repetitive if you will.

    As a result, we are confronted with a lengthy novel that is only partially rewarding. It is constucted on cycles of excitement and tedium which make for an erratic reading experience. You really have to invest a good deal of time and effort searching for the literary nuggets that make the effort worthwhile in the end.

  4. I bought this book based on two reviews: New York Magazine’s (“it reminds you why everyone got so excited about Franzen in the first place”) and The Economist’s (“brilliant”) combined with the fact that I thought The Corrections was a very good book. The Economist gives out reviews like that about as often as Simon Cowell, so I thought, “even I, who am very picky, am going to like *this* book”.

    For the first 381 pages, though, the only thing I liked was that I was coming closer to either being finished with this book or to what I thought had to be an incredibly good ending to justify the incredibly good reviews. The characters were immature, lacked perspective and were in many ways unconvincing to me. Walter was obsessed with overpopulation issues but directed most of his anger at the Catholic church for this problem and wanted, it seemed, to discourage people from having any children. We humans, he makes very clear, are a “cancer on the planet”. I certainly agree the overpopulation is a problem and only growing in scope, but I had a difficult time believing a 50-year old who had supposedly spent so much time “thinking” about the issue was so unwilling to do what it takes to actually make a difference in solving the problem. Instead of advocating policies that might actually work, such as trying to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies in the world, he starts a non-profit to try to encourage 19-year-olds (who will certainly *never* change their minds!) to never have children. Perhaps a 30-year old would be convincing in this role, but not a 50-year old. As a result, it seems Franzen is not trying to make a policy argument but rather using the issue to represent Walter’s anger with people in general.Read more ›

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