Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

December 4, 2010

Plot summary (from the publisher): 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.

Liked:

  • The only part of this book that I liked was the story of Patty and her psycho/stalker college roommate. I thought the two girls had an interesting dynamic and I wanted to see if that would lead to anything (other than Patty meeting Richard and Walter, I mean).

Disliked:

  • Hmm, where do I begin? There were so many things I disliked about this book that it’s going to be difficult to keep this section to a reasonable length. Let’s start with the fact that all the main characters were thoroughly unlikable and uninteresting. I get that making them unlikable was probably a conscious choice on the part of the author, but it’s extremely difficult to stick with boring, self-centered jerks for more than 500 pages. Walter was a spineless loser, Patty was little more than a Desperate Housewives wannabe, and Richard Katz was completely insufferable. It didn’t take one of those holter cardio monitors to show me that these characters were utterly lifeless; Franzen did a fine job of doing that all on his own.
  • There was a LOT of sex in this book. From run-of-the-mill stuff to the utterly disgusting (Connie and Joey’s phone fantasies), there was just too much for my taste — especially since, aside from Richard and Patty’s affair, the sex didn’t serve any real purpose to the plot.
  • What was up with the author’s preoccupation with excrement? Joey’s fantasy about Connie comes to mind, as does the scene where he frantically digs through his own feces in order to find his wedding ring. WTF???
  • There were so many long, dull passages in this book that I had to really force myself to finish. Patty’s autobiography was a snooze, as was everything having to do with Richard and his deck-building. Walter’s conservation efforts practically put me to sleep, and I didn’t care one whit about Joey’s relationship with Connie or his lust for Jenna. Again, if the characters had been the least bit likable, maybe I would have felt differently about these scenes, but I hated everyone in the book!
  • The political rants…. Man, I just hate it when authors use their characters as mouthpieces for their own political leanings. If I wanted to read about that stuff, I wouldn’t head to the fiction department.
  • The length. This book was at least 100 pages too long, probably more. Do editors do anything more these days than run a spell check? Good lord, how about cutting some stuff out to make the work more readable??

Rating:

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen was the first Oprah’s Book Club selection that I ever read simply because of Oprah’s recommendation. It was her last, and it will be mine as well. I seriously do not understand what all the hype was about. The writing was pompous and bombastic, the characters were loathsome, and the plot was long and boring. I give this book 1 star out of 5.

2 Responses to “Freedom by Jonathan Franzen”

  1. I will probably attempt this book at some point, but it will be begrudgingly. I had such high hopes for The Corrections but found it to be completely loathsome, so I have little trst in Franzen.

  2. I know what you mean by at least wanting to try the book, but — it was a real chore to get through.

    Hmm, interesting information about The Corrections. I’ve heard that book was better than Freedom. Guess not!

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