Saturday, December 4, 2010

book review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)The backstory: Freedom is popping up on just about everyone's Best of 2010 list.

The basics: At the risk of oversimplifying an almost 600-page book, Freedom is the story of Walter and Patty Berglund, a couple who meet in Minnesota. It travels backward and forward in time to track their lives, love, children and careers.

My thoughts: I may be one of the few literary fiction lovers who didn't read The Corrections, so Freedom was my first experience with Franzen. I went in with moderate expectations. His novels get immense acclaim, but I've never actually found someone who personally loved his books (if you're out there, please speak up!) Most of my bookish friends own The Corrections but abandoned it as some point.

In many ways, Freedom lived up to my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed Franzen's writing and was engaged with the characters and the narrative. I happily sat in the Chicago airport reading this novel while multiple flights were cancelled and stand-by hell loomed over me (I eventually made it to Minneapolis that day, after thirteen hours on planes and in airports.) Even while I was entranced with the novel, however, I didn't love it.

I did love his writing: "This is in no way intended to exculpate her but simply to elucidate her state of mind."

There were times I laughed out loud: “Sorry,” Patty said. “Remind me again what’s wrong with Dave Matthews?” “Basically everything, except technical proficiency,” Walter said. “Right.” “But maybe especially the banality of the lyrics."

There were nods of satirical humor: “Richard is one of those bizarre people who actually still read books and think about things,” Walter said.

I confess, I didn't give much thought to the title or the cover before I started this book, but I think both are lovely and, most importantly, it's clear the cover designer gets the book. Not surprisingly, the theme of freedom is explored thoroughly. Freedom is a thoroughly American novel in some ways, but it's also a quite modern one. It explores both the macro and micro in ways I won't spoil here. It's a vast novel, in both theme, character and writing. As a whole, it works, and it's quite good, but it's not a novel I'm passionate about. 

The verdict: Freedom is a novel I respected by an author I admire for his writing, observation, storytelling and expansive use of theme; I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 576 pages
Publication date: August 31, 2010
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

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  1. I want to read the Corrections first before this one as I have heard better things about it but it was lovely to read a review of this where you could not compare the two books.

  2. I haven't read The Corrections, either. But I do have this one sitting patiently on the shelf.

  3. @Jessica - I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on both. I hope to read The Corrections sometime, but I don't feel a sense of urgency for it.

    @softdrink - Patiently sitting is perfect for this one. There's no urgency.

  4. I just found a used copy of The Corrections over Thanksgiving, so I'll be starting with that one. I'm trying to keep my expectations moderate so as not to be disappointed! I've really liked the writing in all the Freedom quotes I've read, so I expect to at least enjoy that aspect of Franzen's novels!

  5. Wonderful review! I actually loved this book - for all the reasons you mention in your review :) I especially appreciated the cynical sense of humor (but then, I tend to love sarcasm, so no surprises there!). Glad this one didn't disappoint you!

  6. I loved The Corrections, but I read it so long ago that I probably couldn't explain why very coherently right now. I also just bought this book and am hoping to read it soon. I love the quotes you posted in this review, especially the one about Dave Matthews!

  7. I absolutely agree with you that Freedom is modern novel. It seems that it could only have been written in 2010.


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