Stephen M's Reviews > Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
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's review
Jul 12, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 3-cheers-4-complex-characters, idiot-heart, to-plant-for-my-garden
Read from July 20 to August 10, 2011

Jonathan Franzen has a thing for doody.

And when I say doody I mean human fecal matter in all its wondrous metaphorical implications.* If you didn’t think that poopy could make for an effect literary device, then wait till your eyes digest a few specific pages of this bad boy. It might make you defecate in excitement! When primary character, Joey Bergland, is pulling apart a piece of his own crapola to save his wedding band from the assured irretrievability of the Texas sewage system, you go ah, yes. very cheeky Franzen, that was a good one there. This should be ringing some bells for those of you who read Corrections. That beautiful gem** features a character talking to his own ass apples! What is the deal with this stercoraceous prattle! I’m all for pushing the boundaries, but this makes me a bit more than curious about Franzen’s personal hygienic practices. I’m not accusing Franzen of being a coprophiliac or anything like that, but he does make me a bit uncomfortable. Throughout that scene I said, “oh my god!” (with a certain guttural, indignant emphasis on the ‘oh’). But you know what? Sometimes there’s a lot of shit we have to deal with in our lives. Sometimes we need it thrown at our faces. Franzen doesn’t mind flinging a bit of waste our way. Like that goddamn ape at the zoo! And just like that unruly primate, Franzen holds nothing back.

We become tangled up in these characters’ worlds, dirty laundry and all. These are not the easiest people to read about. I often found myself repulsed, indignant, incredulous (and a bunch of other adjectives) towards these characters. And although Franzen lost me towards the middle, by the end I came to really feel attached to these people. My favorite part of Franzen’s other book, the Corrections, was the character development and the same goes here. I’ve read a handful of other reviews accusing the characters of being “stock”, “flat” or “stereotypical” but that would be to undercut their true depth. Sure, the characters do fall into easily definable categories but by the time you come to know the characters over the span of the entire novel, you see them as very complex individuals. Which, isn’t that how most people are? One could easily place myself into similar categories, but would that undercut me, as a I wish complex person? Same goes for a large majority of the population. To me, this only contributes to the realism of the story.

There is one major flaw that keeps me from the 5 stars; that is the politics. But that doesn’t completely ruin the book for me. Even though I didn’t care at all for the heavy-handed politics, I respect Franzen for writing about the issues that matter to him. And you can tell it matters to Franzen. This book oozes with the angst of passion and discontent. My qualms have little to do with the politics themselves, I often sided with Walter’s rants. I just don’t like it when characters and story are upstaged by the author’s ideology. By the end, however, Franzen brings it back down to the characters. The book has a real heart at its core and Franzen doesn’t mind showing it.

But best of all, he is not content with letting the excrement we expel from our bodies to swirl happily down the drain, out of site and out of mind. No! He is ready to pick those fudge brownies*** up and pull them apart. We all love him for it, even if it motivates some sophomoric book geek to write a juvenile review about it on goodreads.

*I also mean it in the homophonic way, as in duty to family and country.
** I mean that in the least sarcastic way possible. I really loved that book.
*** Other great euphemisms this review didn’t get to use:
creamy butt nuggets
mud bunnies
the fourth teletubby

Prose style: 3
Plot: 3
Depth of characters: 5
Overall sense of aesthetic: 4
Originality: 3
Entertaining: 4
Emotional Reaction: 5
Intellectual Stimulation: 5
Social Relevance: 4
Writerly Inspiration: 3

Average = 3.9
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Reading Progress

07/20/2011 page 61
11.0% "His characterization is simply beautiful. I'm loving every quirk and foible in this."
07/23/2011 page 191
33.0% "All the references to 'freedom', 'competition' and american politics are starting to make me cringe. I'm loving the characters and the story line. I don't know about all this american dream, freedom business."
08/10/2011 page 507
88.0% "Woo! on the home stretch finally!"
05/13/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-5)

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JSou Wait. You're going to see Andrew Bird?? Tonight? I'm jealous.

Nicole Can't wait to read your review! Glad you liked it.

Stephen M JSou wrote: "Wait. You're going to see Andrew Bird?? Tonight? I'm jealous."

Yes! He was amazing. I'm so happy I went.
And @Nelly. Thank you, it really came together so well. But I apologize in advance for the review. It is quite crass.

message 2: by Paquita Maria (last edited Aug 11, 2011 03:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez I saw Andrew Bird at Bonnaroo in 2006, a performance for which there are tons of really impressive youtube videos that are worth checking out. Total badass.

I like your review, but still have qualms with the characters (particularly Richard*). I did feel quite invested in Walter after his public freak out/humiliation-fest, though. That shit was so metal.

*I had already forgotten him enough that I accidentally called him "Robert" at first.

Stephen M Okay, first of all, you saw Andrew Bird at Bonnaroo!!! I'm so jealous. I went to Bonnaroo this summer, it was amazing, but alas, Andrew Birdless.

And I understand the problems with Richard. He was the most cliché of the bunch.

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