Freedom

by Jonathan Franzen

Paper Book, 2010

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.

Description

The idyllic lives of civic-minded environmentalists Patty and Walter Berglund come into question when their son moves in with aggressive Republican neighbors, green lawyer Walter takes a job in the coal industry, and go-getter Patty becomes increasingly unstable and enraged.

Media reviews

One keeps waiting for something that will make these flat characters develop in some way, and finally the Nice Man is struck by a great blow of fate. But rather than write his way through it, Franzen suspends things just before the moment of impact, then resumes Walter’s story six years later—updating us with the glib aside that the event in question “had effectively ended his life.” A writer’s got to know his limitations, but this stratagem is clumsy enough to make one want to laugh for the first time in the book. It certainly beats the part where a wedding ring is retrieved from a bowl of feces.
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Franzen is an amateur ethnographer impersonating a fiction writer. His novel is overstuffed with finger-puppet characters and the clutter of contemporary life: there's no reason to know that someone is wearing "Chinese-made sneakers" or that someone else watches Pirates of the Caribbean during a transatlantic flight. Freedom is crammed as well with rants passed off as dialogue and dialogue that either serves no narrative purpose or reeks of research done in the lifestyle pages of the New York Times.
The freedom of Freedom isn't freedom of choice, it's freedom from it; not an expansion but a narrowing. The book's movement is from the abyss of the abstract to the surety of the concrete, from the potential to the actual. You get there not by reinventing yourself in the American vein, by hatching a plan or heading west or donning a disguise. You do it by going home again, by seeing, as if for the first time, what you've already done, and claiming it as your own.
I didn't buy one of the characters, I didn't buy one of the plot twists, I found the stuff about a Halliburton-esque company rather convoluted and I was completely absorbed by the rest. Without question, Freedom is a book that grabs hold of you. When I was in the middle, I thought of its characters even while I wasn't reading about them, and when I was reading it, I read several lines aloud to my husband.
Franzen's daring has been to take on soap operas and HBO mini-series, demonstrating that if you want modern emotional dramas, the novel can provide them today as effectively as it did in the 19th century. But, he also offers something no HBO series can – the solitude and moral introspection of the novel, the beauty of prose, the imaginative love affair you form with characters you alone see in the way you see them. Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century.
For Franzen, this is the trick: not to outgrow who we are but instead to accept it, and in so doing, to accept the world of which we are a part. That's the freedom to which the title is referring, the freedom at the center of this consuming and extraordinarily moving book.
In the past, Mr. Franzen tended to impose a seemingly cynical, mechanistic view of the world on his characters, threatening to turn them into authorial pawns subject to simple Freudian-Darwinian imperatives. This time, in creating conflicted, contrarian individuals capable of choosing their own fates, Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet — a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times.
Nove anni dopo Le correzioni Franzen torna a breve a proporre un’analisi della crisi in cui versa la classe media statunitense in Freedom, un’opera di quasi seicento pagine in uscita per Farrar, Straus & Giroux che l’Einaudi proporrà in Italia nel 2011.
[S]ometimes the book seems like smart poetry, made up out of the millions of seemingly innocuous details of every-day life.

But, forgive me, despite the brilliance, or maybe even because of it, I found the novel quite unappealing, maybe because every line, every insight, seems covered with a light film of disdain. Franzen seems never to have met a normal, decent, struggling human being whom he didn't want to make us feel ever so slightly superior to. His book just has too much brightness and not enough color.
Perhaps [Franzen] can learn a lesson from Freedom: write a long book about mediocrities, and in their language to boot, and they will drag you down to their level.
What could it possibly mean, then, to say that Freedom, his long-awaited follow-up, finds Franzen maturing? Surely not that he is more confident at 50 than at 40. (It’s hard to think of a novel more confident than The Corrections.) Nor that Freedom is more or less expansive, or that it represents, in the canned phraseology of newspaper reviews, any kind of “stunning departure” in substance or in sensibility. Rather, the novelty of this novel – the richest reward it offers us for our patience – is the deepening of the author’s moral imagination.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Donna828
Is Freedom the new Novel of the Century? An emphatic NO! …Decade? Probably not. …Year? Perhaps, if you enjoy books about miserable people in a world with little hope. I usually don’t mind dark books, but Franzen inflates his story of a modern American family with the repercussions of the “burdens of liberty” and the “heavy weight of empire.” These phrases were taken from the flyleaf blurb about the book and give the correct impression that this is a novel with an agenda.

This book falls into my “good but not great” rating category because Franzen does flawed characterizations so well. In the beginning, he expertly describes suburbia at its worst with gossiping neighbors and teen lust abounding. He portrays the effects of generational conflict in a convincing way. To his credit, the value of marriage and the merits of friendship under adverse circumstances are well-presented themes. He is a very good writer who can tell a thought-provoking story.

But…unfortunately, Franzen tends to hammer his readers with his views on social and political issues. He takes the usual digs at Republican and Catholics. Thankfully, he skips over global warming to harp on overpopulation. He also goes overboard with the theme of freedom. I enjoy discovering how a title fits into a book; however, there is no such discovery allowed here. From inscriptions on buildings, song lyrics, and pages peppered with ubiquitous references to the word, the reader is bombarded with the ways that freedom can wreck lives and our world. How can this be in a book touted as the “Great American novel?”

Enough Already! Interestingly, this is a chapter title in the book. It is my duty as a conservative (small “c”) reader to give fair warning about pathetic female characters and superficial (sometimes degrading) sex scenes and liberal use of the F-bomb. Oh yes, one more caveat. Do not read this book if you are a cat lover because Franzen is compelled to tell us three times that one million songbirds are killed daily by bloodthirsty cats. I wonder who counts the dead birds?

I hope these heartfelt words are not taken as an indictment against the book which many people loved. I’m a firm believer in reading a book and deciding its merits for oneself. The bottom line for me is: the book is overwrought and overrated, yet it is entertaining and gave me food for thought.
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LibraryThing member JimElkins
It is important, in considering famous books, to ignore their fame as much as possible. If I ignore that fact that “Time” magazine says Franzen is “The novelist for our times,” and imagine I have discovered his book in a used bookstore, what do I find?

First, his imagination is entirely swept up in making portraits of social classes, neighborhoods, civics, types, social structures, and upper-middle class aspirations. For me, the difficulty is that I don’t read in order to see “my time” mirrored in a book (thinking of Mailer’s “The Time of My Time”). I have a minimal interest in reading depictions of my time, class, or region, and I do not try to find that in novels. As in “The Twenty-Seventh City,” his imagination is filled with people who are far more likely than average Americans to be concerned about, and involved in, their local government. When he writes about people’s private lives, he is interested in marriage, children, inheritance, patrimony, succession, mobility -- things that impinge on the bourgeois life. (And even if you read this as a barometer or mirror of our time, there’s a problem: Franzen can’t find anything nice to say about the conservatives in his novel, and he can’t find anything wrong with the liberals except their guilt. He repeats his one insight about liberal guilt about five times in the novel, without realizing that a reader might expect him to develop it.)

Second, his prose is serviceable, dependable, unremarkable. His writer’s voice is strangely smooth, easily eloquent, almost slick like a liberal politician’s voice. The writing is unremittingly bland, accomplished but not interesting. Every four or five pages he inserts a striking metaphor or a bit of naturalistic description, almost as if it’s an expected ornament in a novel. The etiquette of his writing in this regard makes me queasy: it’s so well-behaved, so silver-spoonish, so far from any awkwardness or embarrassment. It’s dim, empty, and wholly proper prose, polished by politeness.

And what, in the end, drives this impeccably well-behaved prose express? Given his chosen subject matter, I can’t help but see it as aspirational: it announces its author’s suitability for the next higher social class. I think Bellow, Updike, and Roth would have hated Franzen. Where is the shuddering insecurity and sickening weirdness of adolescence that Wallace knew so well? Where is the personal risk that Vollmann is so good at? Where is the writing? How many interesting, quotable sentences are there in this book?

At the same time I read this, I reader Thomas Bernhard’s “The Lime Works.” The first sentence of that book is a bizarre masterpiece, so much richer, better written, better imagined, than anything in this massive anodyne harmless lesson in the blandness of Franzen’s White educated liberal American twenty-first century.
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LibraryThing member phebj
This is the first book of Jonathan Franzen's that I've really read and it won't be the last. (I tried The Corrections years ago but could never get into it.)

Freedom is mostly about the marriage of Walter and Patty Berglund and whether or not it can survive the strains put on it by their son, Joey, and Walter's best friend from college, Richard. Walter is an environmental lawyer, a "genuinely nice person" and long-suffering. Patty, who once excelled at collegiate basketball until she blew out her knee, is now a "fresh-faced mom with a dark side." In an effort not to repeat her parents' mistakes in distancing themselves from her, Patty becomes inappropriately close to her son (her "Designated Understander") and inadvertently pushes him away. The first big crisis in the Berglund's marriage is Joey's decision to essentially divorce his parents. The second big crisis is Patty's losing battle in fighting her sexual longing for Richard.

Over the course of 562 pages, Franzen alternately delves into the conflicted interior lives of Patty, Walter, Richard and Joey while also commenting on the absurdities of contemporary life. He can go on for more than a page without inserting a period. I found that when I started a chapter I needed to be sure I wouldn't be interrupted. The lives of these characters became so engrossing and Franzen's writing so entertaining that it was like I was under a spell while I was reading each chapter that I didn't want broken.

The title seems to be about how our freedom of choice in this country only serves to make most of us miserable. "People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don't have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. . . . (T)he one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to."

"The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever go sour, to misanthropy and rage." Walter, unfortunately, becomes increasing unhinged as his marriage and his career start to unravel. "How many thousand more times, he wondered, am I going to let this woman stab me in the heart?" His efforts to build a preserve for the Cerulean blue warbler (the bird on the book jacket) in West Virginia are compromised, to the say the least. And he eventually becomes somewhat of a crank going door-to-door trying to convince his neighbors to keep their cats indoors. The birds are "running out of space altogether, because there's more and more development. So it's important that we try to be responsible stewards to this wonderful land that we've taken over." ("Walter had never liked cats. . . They'd seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world.")

While the story can get intense at times, Franzen's writing is darkly humorous--"The country that minutely followed every phony turn of American Idol while the world went up in flames seemed to Walter fully deserving of whatever nightmare future awaited it"--and there is hope at the end; his characters do learn something from their mistakes.

The only reasons I'm not giving this book 5 stars are (1) because the use of third-person narration in the part of the book which is supposed to be Patty's autobiography didn't really work for me while I was reading it (although it occurred to me that the point was to reinforce that Patty wasn't taking any responsibility for her mistakes), and (2) even though the book was totally absorbing when I read it, I often put it aside and as a result it took me almost 3 weeks to read. Not sure if that was because I was trying to read several other books at the same time or it was just too intense to read all the way through in a few days.

Bottom line: Highly recommended; one of my favorite books this year; 4 1/2 stars.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel Freedom doesn’t shy away from the politically incorrect; it doesn’t mince words; it certainly doesn’t extol the virtues of freedom. Instead, this is a novel which takes a hard, often cynical look, at middle America.

Patty and Walter Berglund are in many ways the typical middle-American couple. They live in the suburbs and have exactly two children (one boy and one girl). Patty becomes the traditional stay at home mom, and Walter is a successful environmental lawyer. But, despite the outside wrappings, this is a couple whose lives are far from perfect. Joey, their son, starts having sex early and then moves next door to live with his obsessed girlfriend; Walter’s best friend from college is a rock star whose propensity to disrespect women is actually an attractant rather than a repellent for Patty; and when Walter takes a job working with a big coal company whose idea of preservation first involves blowing the tops off of pristine mountains…all bets are suddenly off.

Freedom is a huge, sprawling book that follows the lives of the Berglunds and their closest friends and relatives for decades. Along the way there is humor, cynicism, love, betrayal, and the consequences of too much freedom. Franzen explores adultery, rape, teenage lust, environmental catastrophe, greed, and political shallowness. It all adds up to a rather negative, albeit amusing, look at contemporary America – especially that of parenting and marriage.

This was my first Franzen novel, and I was impressed by his characterizations and impeccable skill at the craft of writing. At times I found myself laughing out loud at Franzen’s sardonic sense of humor; but mostly I found myself marveling at the genius of his prose. Freedom is not a light read. It is a rather negative view of the American way of life – not all I agreed with, but many times the truth of the novel was hard to deny. The characters in this novel are hardly likable. Instead, they are flawed and use their freedom to mess up their lives and the lives of those they love. Despite not really liking any of the characters, I did end up liking the book.

Since finishing this novel, I’ve read some wildly disparate reviews of it. Some people love it; others hate it; some never finished it…and I see where not everyone will connect to Freedom. On the other hand, once in a long time a novel comes along which is truly an “American” novel from start to finish. I think Freedom fits the bill. Despite painting America with a negative brush, Franzen also provides an interesting perspective on what life is like in the 21st century. Whether readers agree or disagree with his conclusions, Freedom is an entertaining read.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy literary fiction.
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LibraryThing member refice
Wonderful book, but I’m afraid I have to ding Franzen a half star for length.

The story chronicles the lives of Patty and Walter Berglund from their ‘70s college days in Minnesota through their 25 year marriage.

Patty and Walter are an upper middle class, politically progressive couple living in urban St. Paul. Both grew up in dysfunctional families and both were black sheep. Walter is good husband and provider who blindly loves Patty despite her emotional shortcomings. Outwardly Patty is a model mother and homemaker but harbors deep seated insecurities. She is inordinately attached to her son but insensitive to her daughter. Walter, the opposite.

Another key character is Walter’s best friend Richard Katz, a charming but feckless rock musician. Richard is Walter’s foil. Patty has silently carried a torch for him from the day she met him during her sophomore year of college.

Unbeknownst to Walter, Patty and Richard engage in a brief but passionate affair. Patty’s ambivalence about her infidelity, in direct contrast to Walter’s single-minded loyalty, contributes to her painful emotional decline. Alienated by Patty’s volatility, Walter bit by bit distances himself from the marriage. This detachment is hastened by his growing affection for a pretty, young co-worker. But, eventually Walter learns the truth about Richard and Patty’s affair and the two separate.

The reason the book is so popular (aside from Franzen’s excellent writing) is that readers can easily relate to one or more of the story’s characters. Some readers will recognize the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family; others will relate to damage from long repressed desire; still others will empathize with an ordinary couple slowly growing apart. Remarkably, Franzen tells the story from different viewpoints (Patty’s, Walter’s, Richard’s, and others) without wavering from third party point-of-view.

The problem is that Franzen’s writing is so good the reader fully understands the characters in about 80% of the prose devoted to them. An extra 100 or so pages of wit, satire, pathos and storyline are just more words. They fail to add additional depth. I found myself hurrying along at the end just to get it over with.

Nevertheless the book is so well written with such richly developed characters I certainly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member Bookfinds
Nine years after his phenomenal success with The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen is back with the epic family saga, Freedom. Franzen excels in his ability to explore the nuanced layers of the modern American family while delving into major social, political and economic themes. What is most enjoyable about Franzen’s writing is his pitch-perfect prose, each sentence is compelling, dynamic and eye-opening. He places a magnifying glass on society and allows the reader to become fully immersed in a world we can all recognize and appreciate. Franzen is one of the most astute and magical writers living today and his latest work was well worth the nine year wait. Told with humor, honesty and a literary panache, Franzen reminds readers why we love to read; to see our flaws, discover ourselves, and understand a culture that can leave us bewildered and amazed, confused and inspired. Franzen exposes all on the page and solidifies his role as one of our greatest literary stars.… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Freedom is much like Jonathan Franzen's last book, The Corrections, only more so. If you liked his story of a dysfunctional family from the midwest, you'll love his new tale of a liberal, midwestern family with issues of their own.

The book begins with a summary of the life that Walter and Patty Berglund built for their young family in a slowly gentrifying neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. It shows how neighbors saw the nice Berglunds, but quickly moves on to Patty telling her own story in the third person, a very different tale altogether.

Franzen's not one who will amaze the reader with the beauty of his prose or the delicate intricacies of his language. Where he excels, and excels in a startling, astonishing way, is how he can write simultaneously with contempt and with great compassion about his all too human characters. He also is able to detail the way family members love each other and yet can't communicate or willfully miscommunicate with each other. And even as the Berglunds royally mess up their own lives, he allows them moments of forgiveness and grace.
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LibraryThing member cneugebauer
The moment you finish this astonishing nearly 600 page journey, you are sad to leave behind its characters and their struggles. It's at times heart-wrenching, at times hilarious, at times interesting from a plot perspective and at times, all about the amazing prose. But it's always undeniable and honest - and feels like a voice that's finally speaking up after having been muted too long.… (more)
LibraryThing member Iudita
I won't bother describing the story as it has been done quite nicely by other reviewers but I will say that this is a very interesting and enjoyable read. This book is very character driven with heavy dialogue which carries you through page after page of the story. I would come up for air and be surprised that I had read 100 pages. The characters were quite realistic in that they intrigued me and frustrated me at the same time. A lot happens in this book and it moves smoothly and steadily along in a linear plot line that manages to keep you engaged from begining to end.… (more)
LibraryThing member Asperula
A complicated book - not because of being difficult to read - but because it does not let you go when you put it down. With a small cast of characters you get to move through the years and see how missteps define and redemption is always a quiet possibility.
LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I tend to be pretty stingy with "five star" ratings, but this is quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read. I shied away from the love/hate relationship so many have with this author and just decided to sink into it and give it a chance. First and foremost, God, can this guy write ... what an amazing, contemporary talent. The novel is a deeply nuanced family saga that revolves around a very unlikely (in being attracted towards each other) couple, Walter and Patty (and also, their two children, Jessica and Joey and their college friend Richard). What at first just looks like the average suburban family quickly unravels, grows and becomes a parable for much of modern American life. There are diverging political views, ways of life, ways of love and all the complexities that make families, and tear them apart. Also, the concept of "freedom," illusory though it seems to be, is weaved into most of the characters' lives. The "supporting cast" is awesome and the depth of this novel is something I haven't experienced in quite a while (maybe Prayer for Owen Meany?). It was just the best reading experience I had this year, maybe even this decade. A lot hinges on the likeability of the two main characters, which at times, was a bit tough, but then invariably, they do something so utterly human and real, like we all do, and in a few pages I found myself cheering them on. My only small complaints are it can be a bit preachy at times but interestingly, usually both sides are well portrayed, so it made for no easy answers. So if current politics, mostly regarding the Iraq invasion, corporations, the economy and conservation are not interesting to you, these characters spend a lot of time talking about them. Also, seriously, LOTS of talk about the guys' (particularly Joey and Richard) private parts in this one ... lots. That was really quite overdone. But still, nothing that would deter me from rating this book as highly as possible. I couldn't put it down for days, until I finished. Truly, a "great" novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member ClaudiaMoscovici
You probably already know about him. Time Magazine has recently published his picture on its cover, calling him the “Great American Novelist.” I have just finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, and my visceral reaction was: WOW! Which led me to think about the importance of the WOW! factor: not just in Franzen’s novel, but in contemporary fiction in general.

Let me preface my remarks by stating the obvious: it’s not easy to publish literary fiction in this country. Literary fiction writers like Jonathan Franzen, Wally Lamb, Jeffrey Eugenides and a handful of others have to compete in the publishing world with brand name authors: political personages like Sarah Palin or pop celebrities like Madonna, who generate controversy and attract media coverage, which in turn boosts book sales. They also compete with genre fiction writers, such as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, who provide entertainment for the general public. But literary fiction also remains, above all, an aesthetic genre. At its best, it delivers strong characterizations, an individual style—as unique as the fingerprints of its authors—psychological depth, cohesive, well-balanced structures and outstanding plots, full of twists and surprises.

Furthermore, literary fiction is not easily digestible: it requires a lot of patience, thought and, since such novels probe into our natures and motivations, a not always pleasurable introspection. Which is perhaps why –along with poetry and independent films–literary fiction tends to get great critical reviews but doesn’t usually sell well. So when an author manages to write literary fiction that is top-notch quality and appeals to the general public, the only way I can explain this magic is through that je ne sais quoi, the WOW! factor.

Granted, Jonathan Franzen had a lot going for him: Ophrah’s attention (the mere presence in Oprah’s Book Club makes any book sell well); an outstanding literary agent (Susan Golomb) and the support of a publisher who is known for publishing top literary fiction (Jonathan Galassi, the publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux). But talking about all of this “cultural capital” in Franzen’s corner really begs the question. Because his new novel wasn’t chosen at random: it really deserves the endorsements it gets.

Freedom is, first of all, a family epic. It traces the lives of two generations of Americans: Patty and Walter Berglund and their children, Joey and Jessica. The novel offers a masterful sketch of two eras in American culture, not just the portrait of a family. For additional interest and spice, there’s the drama and tension of a love triangle. Patty becomes infatuated with her husband’s best friend, the renegade musician, Richard Katz. In its vivid portrayals of the love story between Patty and Walter and the affair between Patty and Richard, Freedom shows us the difference between infatuation—with its long-term obsessions and explosive, but short-lived sexual excitement–and love, with its combination of loyalty, disappointment and real-life challenges.

The novel’s tension is maintained not just by the drama of the plot, but also by the depth and balance of its characterizations. The main characters function as each other’s foils: the moral, straight-laced Walter is a foil for Richard Katz, the egotistic musician, whose outlook reminds me of Ivan’s famous saying in The Brothers Karamazov: “But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.” Similarly, Patty, the competitive housewife prone to depression is counterbalanced by her pragmatic, even-keeled daughter, Jessica. Finally, the doting, self-effacing neighbor’s daughter, Connie, functions as the perfect complement and foil to the outgoing and self-confident Joey. Their youthful love story reveals the perfect match between idolizer and idol, which could prompt many a psychologist to analyses of the workings of narcissism and co-dependency, but which also remains more touching and unique than popular psychology. The characterizations in this novel are so compelling that it’s as if the author immersed himself into mindset of each character, a process reminiscent of Flaubert’s saying, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi!” Which brings me to my initial point: Freedom definitely captures the WOW! factor. For me, the WOW! factor happens when a writer appeals to the greatest number of readers without sacrificing anything in quality (characterization, plot, structure or style).

As a fiction writer and literary critic, I’ve been an avid reader of contemporary fiction for a long time. Novels like Franzen’s Freedom, which magically combine mass appeal with aesthetic qualities, remind me of why if you make it as a novelist in the U.S., you make it internationally. To keep afloat in a very competitive and rapidly changing environment, American publishers demand mass appeal from all of their writers. Meeting the highest aesthetic standards, as Franzen’s Freedom does, is just an added bonus: that unforgettable yet unmistakable WOW! factor.

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com
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LibraryThing member mdreid
This is a beautifully crafted and moving book. The characters—especially Walter, Patty, and Richard—are complex, flawed, and believable. The drama of their lives is built around the tension of desire for and duty towards family, friends, and the world around them. The big themes are all here—love, ambition, responsibility, class, infidelity, environmentalism, and death—and their motifs are artfully rendered in family tussles, neighbourhood feuds, political ideology, and compromising attempts to save migrating birds.

As much as I was impressed and engrossed by the story and its themes, I cannot help shake the feeling that it was a little too earnest and sincere. There are no moments of levity, no pratfalls or jokes. There is lightness, beauty, and the occasional bit of hope, but nothing that made me grin or chuckle.

However this is only a very minor and very subjective flaw. Hardly a flaw at all if what you are after is a masterful and thought-provoking Serious Book.
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LibraryThing member pjpjx
really, why is this book so highly rated? The story is entertaining enough, but it basically comes down to kind of wet dream where "don't worry all you aging baby boomers, everything is fine at the end, no matter what you did." It's OK if you were uptight in college, you will marry the right girl, who though she doesn't love you at first, she will in the end. And in the in between when she didn't love you, hey there is this young chick who will keep you company and then have the sense to get herself killed and not get in the way. And sure your best friend screwed your wife, but hey he named a CD after you. And your kids? Well your son has all the sex he could ever want, starting at puberty, so you can live out all your repressed fantasies, and in the end he did it for love, or to make an environmentally friendly million bucks off shaded coffee or something like that. And your daughter is repressed but perfect -- so a modern day nun. And its OK to hate cats as long as you love birds. And this book won every award??????????… (more)
LibraryThing member ChrisArtis
Got an ARC. Terrific. Even better than The Corrections.
LibraryThing member jasonpettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

If it's rare for me to give out a perfect 10 here at CCLaP (only two to three books per year rate as such), then it's unheard of for me to give two perfect 10s within just a week or two of each other; yet that's exactly what I find myself doing today, as I recently followed up Jonathan Evison's remarkable West of Here in my reading list with Jonathan Franzen's equally remarkable Freedom, undoubtedly the most hotly anticipated book of the last six months, and whose release last fall triggered a simultaneous wave of orgasms from ten thousand NPR reporters and Brooklyn cupcake-store owners that could be felt all the way to Portland itself. And that's because, in many people's eyes (including my own -- let me make my biases clear right away), Franzen is a good bet for being one of the handful of contemporary novelists to eventually define our times for future eyes; he has the academic credibility, after all, plus the mainstream success that lets him be a part of the larger popular culture (why, just his saga with Oprah alone will probably merit him at least a footnote in literary history), plus is known for writing massive, complicated, yet touching and bizarrely funny family sagas, the exact kind of thing that makes for easy bestsellers but that academic committees feel okay giving awards to as well.

And indeed, as I started making my way through this latest book of his last week, I couldn't help but think how similar it is to Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, now that I've finally read that too; and in fact, Freedom comes curiously close to the hypothetical modern remake of Karenina that I mentioned in my write-up, only with his upper-class, eco-conscious, dysfunctional liberals living in the tony suburbs of Minnesota instead of Wisconsin, and with their occasional urban sojourns being to New York instead of Chicago. Because that's really the most important thing about Franzen to know; that much like Sinclair Lewis in the 1920s, Franzen is mostly known for these scathing indictments against the blandly left middle-class and nouveau-riche, almost blasphemous looks at how the hypocrisies and neuroses of such people directly lead to their own downfall -- and like Lewis in the '20s, Franzen's success is due mostly to the fawning love shown him by the exact bumbling middle-class lefties that he so excoriates in his stories.

So that becomes a fascinating question just on its own, of why there are these points in history when the banally evil get great delight out of stories that viciously attack them; and as we can see in Franzen's work when we look closely at it (and Lewis, and John Cheever, and Gustave Flaubert, and all the other writers in history who fit into this pattern), perhaps this is due to certain points in history being complicated ones, where the million small, forgivable sins of a million otherwise decent people is all it takes to create one giant uncontrollable mess, a catastrof-ck that affects us all but that can be blamed on no one specific group, thus necessitating the guilt-fueled self-punishment that has made Franzen such a hit in his time, just like Lewis and Cheever and Flaubert were in their own. I mean, it's hard to deny that this is what Freedom is mostly about, is the various ways that well-meaning dupes end up causing havoc and destruction to everything they touch, through a series of moral compromises that are justified as an inevitable part of the modern world -- from the environmental lawyer who gets in bed with the clear-cut mining industry in order to save an endangered bird, to his neocon son who decides to take on a government contract to procure used truck parts to send to Iraq, just to have the whole thing turn into a third-world nightmare of corruption and violence, to the failed middle-aged musician who has an affair with the lawyer's trainwreck wife, then writes an alt-country album about the experience that becomes the biggest hit of his career.

But at the same time, though, it's the uniqueness of Franzen's voice that really set his novels apart, away from other writers who might happen to be juggling the same general issues; because I have to confess, Franzen is one of the only writers working today where I literally cannot guess from even one page to the next where the story is heading, with his plots taking so many random, unexpected spins and jumps that it's simply a delight just to see what happens next. But like all the greatest writers in history, even though his storylines are impeccably weird and complex, they're mere window dressing to the character exploration he does in his books, the main reason to be reading them; because in this menagerie of angry family members and bizarre liberals, we're sure to see at least a bit of ourselves, with Freedom being a fine examination of how exactly American society could've gone so wrong during the Bush years of the early 2000s, even more fascinating for it being told form the perspective of the people who don't think they're the guilty ones, but are perhaps just as much to blame as the actual bible-thumpers, teabaggers and torturing soldiers.

And yes, Franzen fans, I know, this is starting to sound an awful lot like his last novel, the equally brilliant The Corrections, which is perhaps the main criticism you can make of this book, that the author simply repeats himself a little too much for some people's tastes; but I instead prefer to look back again at the authors I've already mentioned, to see the relationship between The Corrections and Freedom to be the same as the one between Tolstoy's Karenina and War and Peace, or Lewis' Babbitt, Main Street and Arrowsmith, not repeats or ripoffs but companion pieces set in the same shared universe, part of a more massive "meta-tale" that Franzen is weaving together out of his entire oeuvre, which again can be directly compared to, say, how all the characters in Cheever's hundreds of short stories all seem to be vaguely related to each other. This doesn't really bother me, when similar novels from a single author feel more like interlocking pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle; all I ask is that the quality remain excellent from one title to the next, which is something no one can deny when it comes to Freedom versus The Corrections.

It basically boils down to this, that I can't imagine how Franzen could've made this any better than it currently is; and that's a strong motivation for giving a book a 10, when it feels like it literally wouldn't be possible for an editor to go in there and make changes that are legitimately needed. It's one of those books that completely sucked me in while I was reading it, to the point of manytimes no longer even noticing my public surroundings; and this is what the pleasure-reading experience should always be at its absolute best, which is why I consider Freedom among the absolute best that's out there. Needless to say, it comes highly recommended today.

Out of 10: 10
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LibraryThing member Narboink
Believe the hype. This is an instantly absorbing, exquisitely smooth expedition into the psychological maelstrom of a modern American family. While not a perfect novel (its charm is firmly anchored in convention), it delivers a deeply rewarding emotional wallop in the midst of an intellectual carnival ride. Anyone familiar with "The Corrections" will recognize that Franzen has improved upon his strengths.

There are certainly parts of the novel that flagged a bit, but I attribute this to my own prejudices and literary tastes rather than any particular fault of the novel itself. When you compare it to other novels available today, this one is easily a cut above. Take a few days and read it.
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LibraryThing member jms001
A novel about your typical, white, middle-class, privileged family with your typical problems.

This book received quite a bit of hype when it first came out, even making itself onto Oprah's 2010 book club selection. I mean, it has an introspective look at what the typical middle-class family's troubles might go through, from the wee beginnings of father issues over many generations and its repetitive cycle as the younger generation comes of age. For all of that, it really lives up to its promise. It's not a bad book by any means. Franzen is a good writer, and writes about issues that are extremely relatable.

Granted, that's about all it offers. If you're looking for a story that will offer some sort of redemption to its characters, then try something else. I hardly found any characters that were worth liking. Everyone was just depressing. Not to mention that nearly all the female characters in the book were focused on the men. Ultimately, I found myself wanting to finish because I wanted to know what happened at the end. And really, the only interesting thing that happens is that a cat dies.

Now the hype that surrounds the book may be a bit over done, but that's not the fault of the book, nor the author, but is more symptomatic of our own culture.

Not a bad book by any means. But not a great book either.
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LibraryThing member anyotherbizniz
Read Dec 2010 - Jan 2011.

Fascinating book for readers my age - although the main characters got much closert to real power than I will probably ever ghet. Perhaps a littel oversimplistically drawn. The cool musician (Richard to the others but Katz to himself) is a twot - but is still the cool guy we all wanted to be. Walter the good guy is just too good, but his lover Lalitha is very sexily drawn. Patty's kids and sisters are also caricatures. Does any young man really disdain blowjobs and would her sisters be quite so pathetic if the story was written from their angle? Patty is by far the most interesting and well drawn character, although it is not at all clear why the two leading men are so fascinated by her.

I enjoyed the the book and it is a measure of its success in getting at me that I actually cared about the characters enough to really want a happy ending.
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LibraryThing member wflooter480
The sense of resolution and satisfaction I feel after finishing Freedom makes me super happy. I just told my husband, who reads mostly sci-fi thrillers and shies away from this type of novel, that if he ever felt like reading a great, modern American novel, Freedom should be it. Now, I don't want to say that this is a perfect novel, because art is never about perfection, but I do want to say that the care, technique, articulation and structure of this book is out of sight. Makes me want to go back and read The Corrections again. That book did not resonate with me at all when I read it several years ago, but perhaps I had some growing up to do. (I was all of 22, maybe, when I read it.)

Anywhoozie, I loved this book. I didn't pick it up excited; I didn't have great expectations for it; I thought it was probably overrated. I put it down moved, joyful and grateful.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
This is a despicable book. It's characters are all flawed, and its plotting eventually elicits a huge "who cares"? Given that Franzen's The Corrections was such a stunner, to wait so long for the author to produce this disappointing, depressing drek is very, very sad. On the positive side, the boy can still write beautifully, which is what sustained me through most of the work. Imagine a speed rap on virtually every aspect of American culture, told by depressed, cynical, amoral, or buffoonish characters. Reading Freedom is like having a silly song percolating through your head and you can't get rid of it. I wish I could just forget that I had read about these worthless idiots.… (more)
LibraryThing member bragan
The Berglunds are a family of well-off middle-class liberals whose apparently comfortable life conceals a lot of complicated unhappiness. There's the depressive Patty, who married an unexciting nice guy despite secretly preferring his rock-and-roller best friend; the idealistic Walter, who wants to save the Earth, but has compromised his own principles so much that he may be doing more harm than good; and the ambitiously capitalistic Joey, who is used to things coming easily to him, until the complex realities of adulthood finally hit.

I have such mixed feelings about this book. I can see why it's gotten so much positive buzz. Franzen's writing is very good, his characters well-drawn and believable, and his take on relationships often quite insightful. Some of the political elements of the novel feel a little awkward, as if he's trying a little too hard to be politically relevant, but that's not really a big problem for me. What is kind of a problem is that fact that the book is just too darned long. Not that I have a problem with long books per se, but this one feels like it overstays its welcome. The characters may be well-drawn and believable, but they're just not quite interesting enough to carry 562 pages, and by the end, I was getting tired of their company.

Rating: A reluctant 3.5/5. If it were about 150 pages shorter, I think it would have easily earned a 4.
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LibraryThing member Miccosukee
Start with the title.

We think it's why "they" hate us. It's why untold numbers of Americans have died in untold numbers of wars. Our freedoms of speech, press, vote, travel, commerce, worship are what we wave as proof of our nations' greatness. Nowhere in the world do people love the individual like America. Our fascination with the lone man is, perhaps, our greatest asset and weakness.

Here's the thing, though. Too much freedom tempts the individual away, makes him think more of his own concerns rather than the concerns of another person, community, country, or planet.

Now take this idea and upon it, hang a family.

Walter and Patty Bergland have all the freedoms that money, education, and liberal attitudes can buy. Throughout their long, protracted story, we watch them make bad choice after bad choice in search of self-gratification. But this is an oversimplified assessment of their motives. They are good people trying to do right by their families. That they screw up at every turn is not really their fault: America makes heroes of actors and sports stars; we created the professional celebrity. We forgive the rich, but God help you if you're poor. In Franzen's novel, caring about the planet is stomachable only if big business can profit from it. Because wealth is the mark of a man, the Berglands are up against a world that cares most about fair access to money instead of simple joys like health, family and equality. They end up sharing so much with the world, and so little with one another.

But lest I make this book sound like some slanted screed on a red or blue world view, be assured the message goes way beyond politics. No one comes off as hero or villain. It's hard to watch the Berglands screw up their lives, but in Franzen's universe, we can only redeem ourselves when we embrace some of the ideas that may get us, as a country, kicked off the island--which, in a way, is sort of what happens to Walter. And when he does find himself alone and regarded by outsiders as eccentric, unlikeable, maybe even dangerous, he finally discovers the way to survive is not by isolating himself, but by embracing for all he's worth a person he has literally frozen out.

I think the reason this novel is being hailed as a masterpiece, which seems to have galled a lot of people, is because Franzen dares to look at our country's iconic promise, and asks if it's really worth it. We seem to have too much freedom already. How much more self-involved can we get? His answer, which comes in the form of a endangered bird, gives us hope.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
I feel as though I've been reading this book forever, & instead of having that accomplished feeling after finishing a large book, I frankly just feel relieved that it's over. Given that it's a rather large tome, I knew I was in for a long read, but after I while I had the needle-in-a-haystack feeling, as in, I kept reading but didn't feel like I was making any headway. But alas, I did finish. And I'm kind of sitting here wondering what the point of this story was and thinking it could've been portrayed in a shorter workl. I suspect there is some symbolism that I'm just not getting, & I'm certain there are some political statements made in the book that I can give or take. But I'm still left with a feeling of "what's the point??" after finishing this one. I think not one single character was really likeable in this novel. And that's all I can say, other than this was a book club read & I am curious as to what my fellow clubbies will have to say.… (more)
LibraryThing member waxlight
Standard 'lives of quiet desperation' book. Decently written, but not sure what -all- the fuss is about.

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Paper Book)
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