Brett's Reviews > Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
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Jun 19, 11

bookshelves: classy-fiction
Read from April 27 to June 19, 2011

Without beating around the bush, Freedom is likely the best book I'll read this year, and is on my short list of books that have been most striking to me as reading experiences. Franzen is at the height of his powers, and delivers a phantasmagoria of human need, desperation, gratification, and regret. He also gives us a novel about politics, and personal and political alienation. This novel came with a tremendous amount of hype, and in my eyes, lived up to expectations.

Freedom is frankly gripping. The characters are beautiful reflections of people you know. The writing is fluid and witty. The plot is not exactly unpredictable, but it's a journey that I was more than willing to embark upon. I'm noticing other reviews mentioning that Frankzen must hate people or that there are no likable characters in the book (as though that really mattered). I'm not sure where this idea is coming from, but I found the Berglunds very likable indeed, and I don't think there's much evidence about the nature of humanity here, except that humans sometimes make poor choices and sometimes good ones, and that there are a multitude of factors at play in determining outcomes.

Though Walter ended up being my favorite character, the opening 150 or so pages that comes mostly from Patty's perspective is perhaps the most engaging part of the novel. If only we could all be so honest with ourselves. I also admired the sly humor--one passage stays with me about Walter driving, how the other drivers all drive dangerously fast, or else obsequiously obey the posted limit, and how only he, only Walter strikes the perfect balance--and the naturalism of the political subplots. The politics does not feel shoeshorned into the book. It feels at home.

Anyway, that's more than enough from me. You can easily find the NY Times review for a much more erudite treatment. This was emphatically my cup of tea, but the dearth of 5 star reviews on this site testifies that it is not for everyone. It's complex and effective, but also unsubtle and much-hyped. I suspect people will still be reading this 50 years from now.
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