“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen

“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen  (2010) – 562 pages

It was time to get away from genre and historical fiction and read a book that deals with real life as it is lived now.  Jonathan Franzen, in his novel “Freedom” again captures the spirit of our times.

Walter Bergland in “Freedom” has the extreme misfortune of being a principled environmentalist during the George W. Bush administration, while the administration and its cronies looked upon all efforts to preserve nature or protect the environment with contempt.   George W. Bush as President was a cross between Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and then there was the sinister Vice President Dick Cheney in the background perhaps controlling everything.    In “Freedom”, Franzen also deals with the massive corruption of United States businesses during the administration especially among contractors of the Iraq War, much of it at the expense of United States soldiers serving there.  Franzen has a good analogy for the Bush administration.  For most of us, it was like a monster truck or SUV tailgating us to within an inch of our lives at 80 miles an hour.  If you’ve ever been tailgated, you know what that is like.

“Freedom” is mostly about the Bergland family, husband and father Walter, wife and mother Patty, daughter and sister Jessica, and son and brother Joey.  Much of the novel takes place in Minnesota, but also in Virginia, West Virginia, and New York. Much of the novel is narrated by Walter’s wife Patty.  She relates the entire story of Walter and Patty’s courtship which isn’t always pretty, but this is real life.

    “There are few things harder to imagine than other people’s conversations about yourself.”

I always race through Jonathan Franzen’s long novels, reading them much faster than other books.  I was never less than fascinated by the stories in “Freedom”, and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to these characters.  Jonathan Franzen has perfected that rarity, the smooth literary best seller.

Is “Freedom” a masterpiece, the book of the century?  I’m hoping there will be more authors with the courage and the insight to write about real life during these years.  Some of these novels may not be as smooth as “Freedom”.  They may be spiky and much more difficult to read, but they may be deeper and more profound.  For now, “Freedom” is a good place to start to come to terms with this era.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Tony, great review! I, too, raced through this book, but I may go back later and reread it. I liked your comments about the Bush/Cheney influence and thought the identification of Bush as a cross between Beck and Palin particularly apt. I hadn’t ever thought about that before, but I can definitely see them both in W.

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  2. Hi Weekend Reader,
    Thank You, Thank You. This is the first time the blog has gotten at all political, but there are political elements to “Freedom” that couldn’t be ignored. It’s probably more a case of Beck and Palin imitating W. than the other way around, but they all end up being very similar.

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  3. Tony, I wish I hadn’t heard so much about the book before it was published. He does what he does very well, though, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when I get around to it. I want to read it even less now that it’s an Oprah book.

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    • Hi Frisbee,
      I hear what you’re saying. There is such a thing as Too Much publicity about a single book. “Freedom” has passed the saturation point. Sorry to add to the stack. Actually I believe I preferred “Ether” to “Freedom” as representing modern times.

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  4. Ah, fair enough summation Tony. Only, while I did manage to read this in a few days under pressure of a deadline, I can’t say I raced through it. I found it got bogged down in too much detail which diluted its overall impact. I do though like Franzen’s analysis of middle class relationships. (I liked The corrections)

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    • Hi WhisperingGums,
      I like your use of the word ‘baggy’ in your review to describe ‘Freedom’. I’m happy that Franzen was able to portray the George W. Bush era at all, as I suspect most writers are still too scared to do so honestly. I’m hoping there will be some writers who will be able to cut a lot deeper than Franzen.

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      • Thanks Tony … yes, I forgot to mention that I like your specific statement regarding his willingness to portray the Bush era. The ability to hone in more is probably something that comes with a little distance but you can sense there’s a passion there can’t you? I agree that we should appreciate his efforts – and, even the critical bloggers are mostly saying that there’s much to enjoy as well as things to criticise in this book.

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  5. Oops, forgot to subscribe to the comments so here is a fake comment so I can subscribe!

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  6. […] “I’m hoping there will be more authors with the courage and the insight to write about real life during these years. Some of these novels may not be as smooth as ‘Freedom’. They may be spiky and much more difficult to read, but they may be deeper and more profound. For now, ‘Freedom’ is a good place to start to come to terms with this era.” Tony’s Book World […]

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