Bryan's Reviews > Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
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Feb 18, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: audio
Read from February 11 to 18, 2011

When people say a work of art keeps them thinking they usually mean this in a positive light. Some works are so fascinating, so conscious shifting, they stay with us after we have parted with them. But sometimes a work can keep you thinking when you are finished with it because you can’t help but wondering: how could so many people like this?

I think I really I do know why so many people like this. Franzen tells us himself about half way through: people like to read about themselves. I suppose in this case there are A WHOLE LOT of upper middle class white people who hate themselves and their lives. I suppose too that the people that decide what gets to go the covers of magazines fall into said category of people. Unfortunately for me, the lives of said category are of little or no interest to me. This novel has little dramatic value, and says nothing a hundred other novelists haven’t said a hundred times before. The middle class bored and unhappy = lit fail (even if you add iPods and Iraq War).

Franzen is blessed with an ease of language. His sentences feel very natural and go down like warm milk. This, I know, is no easy thing. Many novelists work so so hard for this never to achieve it. Besides the exclusory nature of the text, the deus ex machina in this plot is too obvious for me to overlook. In the Book-Club-in-a-Bag kits we lend out here at the library, there is a flier that asks simple questions that can be applied to any book to aid your book club’s discussion. One of the questions is: “Are there any false notes?” There are many false notes in Freedom. I have no idea why certain characters make the decisions that they do, yet these decisions are the crux of the story. Some examples:

- I do not understand why Richard, as he is written, would not sleep with Patty.

- I do not understand why Walter, as he is written, would care as much as he does that Richard and Patty slept together a few tortured times during their 20+ year friendship.

- Patty is often described as “competitive” (though not really written that way) so why is she content to be a depressed homemaker if that is not what she wants to do?

And why is Lolitha’s death glossed over? This is only obvious tragedy in the book besides Patty’s rape, but it is it not really dealt with. Or maybe she wasn’t a fully developed character so she can be killed off?

Finally, I am forced to admit that I am a snob. Why admit this now? This book has been described as capturing the zeitgeist of this moment in history. And I suppose it does for upper middle class whites. I try to be a well informed citizen. I don’t need someone else, especially a novelist, to express for me the zeitgeist of the time I am living in. I’m living it. When someone else tells me about it, much like my experience watching TV, I am bored. At least with a novel I don’t have hear any g.d. commercials (for now). Or to put in another way: TEACH ME SOMETHING NEW! If this makes me a snob, then I am a snob.

I dedicate this review to all the women that I know and love that are hard and strong and refuse to be victims.
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