Saturday, 15 January 2011

FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen (contd)

The New York Times called FREEDOM “a masterpiece,” and I've seen it frequently referred to as the first great American novel of the 21st century. On the other hand, some critics think it's not all that. I personally think it is all that.

I freaking LOVED this novel. As you could perhaps have predicted from my last post, written intemperately when I was only on page 38. Having now read all 561 pages, I'm here to report that FREEDOM is indeed a very fine novel. That it is also a bestseller goes some distance to restoring my faith in human nature that has been damaged previously in this blog by such painful episodes as PROMISES, PROMISES and THE REVERSAL.

FREEDOM tells the story of a marriage. It begins when Patty and Walter meet as undergraduates in Minnesota (Walter, I must point out, attends my undergrad Macalester). Patty is initially attracted to Walter's best friend, the womanising musician Richard. She eventually marries Walter, as he is madly in love with her, and is a kind and caring man. They build a house in a neighbourhood on the up, have two children, and a relatively happy life. Patty struggles to understand her children as adolescents, is bored with staying at home, and has an affair with Richard. Walter becomes increasingly angry about what he perceives as the world's descent into environmental cataclysm. Eventually the marriage crumbles. Patty has an unsatisfying relationship with Richard, Walter has a satisfying one with his young assistant, and then they get back together again.

This novel is wonderful in a number of ways.
1)It's funny. See first post.
2)It's accurate. For example, on a failing actress:
As if to compensate for her shortness, Abigail went long with her opening speech – two hours long – and allowed Patty to piece together a fairly complete picture of her life: the married man, now known exclusively as Dickhead, on whom she she’d wasted her best twelve years of marriageability, waiting for Dickhead’s kids to finish high school, so that he could leave his wife, which he’d then done, but for somebody younger than Abigail; the straight-man disdaining sort of gay men to whom she’d turned for more agreeable male companionship; the impressively large community of underemployed actors and playwrights and comics and performance artists of which she was clearly a valued and generous member; the circle of friends who circularly bought tickets to each other’s shows and fund-raisers, much of the money ultimately trickling down from sources such as Joyce’s checkbook; the life, neither glamorous nor outstanding but nevertheless admirable and essential to New York’s functioning, of the bohemian.
3)The man can manage a long sentences like there is no tomorrow. Or like he is a Victorian. See 2).
4)It covers an almost mindboggling amount of ground: cotemporary environmental issues, good and bad relationships, sibling rivalry, child-parent relationships, profiteering in the Iraq war, local governance, neighbourliness. It really is bizarrely both a domestic novel and a state-of-the-nation novel

The book comforted me by making me feel that life is long, and most people make a lot of mistakes in it.

I can conceivably see where you might find this book irritating: it is very much about middle class America. There is a big and slightly weird focus on sex as the ultimate determinant of a relationship, and on sibling rivalry as an explanation for all later relationships, which does seems a bit like someone might have had a bit too much therapy.

That said, I still thought it was wonderful.


  1. Just finished it this morning over breakfast....dude, I am somewhat broken that there isn't any more of it to read. Wonderful.

  2. I know! I know! I am glad you love it too