Casey's Reviews > Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
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's review
Oct 28, 2010

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Read from October 02 to 18, 2010

Okay, so much has been written and said about Freedom, Jonathan Franzen's long awaited follow up to The Corrections, it's difficult to discuss the book itself without commenting on all the other reviews/controversy/backlash/etc. In fact, I've been done with the book for a couple weeks, and I've been trying to collect my thoughts about it since.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't love the book; however, I certainly didn't hate it, either. I'm somewhere in between; there were sections I really liked and sections that didn't do much for me. (But part of me wonders if because so many other have taken shots at it, I like the novel more. Had I read the book in a vacuum, who knows?) One thing Franzen does well, as he proved in The Corrections, is write complex families made up of complex characters. In Freedom, he does it again with Patty and Walter, and their two kids Joey and Jessica, their long-time friend, Richard Katz, and a host of other secondary characters, who, as the novel progresses become less and less secondary. (One could argue that Jessica doesn't get her due, and I'd be inclined to agree.) Franzen also does an especially good job handling big issues, though many have used that as a point of criticism against him. Marriage, infidelity, parenting, politics, music, the war, government contracts, endangered species, the environment (I'm sure I've left some out) - Franzen tackles them all. There are a few moments where one could argue that Franzen, through the narrator, gets a bit preachy, but on the whole Franzen has created characters that we as readers care about, and it's through these characters that he tackles the big issues. To me, the novel is character driven more than anything. Finally, for such a big book with so many plot-lines, Freedom has great symmetry. I was surprised at how well Franzen pulled things together at the end. I'm not crazy about the ending, but it was impressive to see everything coming together. As a reader, it was clear I was in good hands.

I guess to say that there were sections of the novel that I didn't enjoy isn't quite fair. Freedom, for such a long book, moves really well. The novel never bogs down, though there are places it could have in lesser hands. The long Patty sections - an "autobiography," written in the third person, she is writing at the behest of her therapist - left me with questions, not about the plot or action of the novel but for Franzen. I, and I'm sure many others, couldn't help but wonder why he chose to construct the novel the way he did, particularly with Patty's autobiograpy. It's an intersting character study and it provides background for much of what is going on in the novel, but the way he handles it is a bit gimmicky. For one, he has Patty refer to herself in the third person, which takes away the great opportunity to convey Patty's "voice" on the page. There are few quirks in the languge, but by and large there isn't much difference between Patty's writing and Franzen's.

Love Franzen or hate him, ultimately, I'd rather live in a world where a serious literary writer like Franzen sells a lot of books and gets praised (even if some of it is undeserved), than in one where the likes of Dan Brown, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Nicholas Sparks, are our national bestsellers.

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