FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

Book Quote:

“Where did the self-pity come from? The inordinate volume of it? By almost any standard, she led a luxurious life. She had all day every day to figure out some decent and satisfying way to live, and yet all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. The autobiographer is almost forced to the conclusion that she pitied herself for being so free.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (NOV 07, 2010)

It’s been years since a novel’s impact was so colossal that I was unable to pick up and focus on another novel one, two, four–even twenty-four hours after closing the book. (The last time this happened to me was with Possession, by A.S. Byatt.) The force of Franzen’s characters, particularly Patty Berglund, pierced me with such legion intensity that I am temporarily ruined for the next book. I apologize for the lack of restraint in my accolades–that which is diametrically opposed to Franzen’s utterly fluid and immaculate prose, his graceful, poised restraint.

No contemporary author in recent memory eclipses Freedom‘s degree of character examinations. Patty and Walter are powerfully palpable, and to a lesser but still compelling degree their son, Joey, and their best friend, Richard Katz defy cliché. This novel hits its stride immediately, and continues to get better and better, and progresses to rare species. Not one dull page or false note. This is a siren of middle-class existential angst.

If you specifically detest novels of existential angst, OK, skip this. A fair warning. However, Franzen, in my estimation, does not toil or stall in the potential pitfalls of this theme and context. He has an exquisitely metered balance of scorn, mockery, truculence, and self-scorching–the traits that often dominate a domestic drama when the tone is ironic. There is nothing heavy-handed or phony here.

There are beautiful moments of self-awareness and growth. And this is where Franzen’s brilliance is doubly conveyed. I am not generally a fan of scatological humor, but there is an astonishing scene where Joey’s evolution is combined, and actually self-realized with the most fecal of matters. The metaphor of his personal excrement and the painfully comic scene amplifies Joey’s self-discovery. Only a pinhead would fail to see the mastery of this scene.

Some reviewers complain that he has no “tone.” Au contraire. As I posted in a comment earlier, the tone is sardonic–slightly more sardonic than The Corrections, and carries with it Franzen’s dry subtlety. Actually, it is the tone that conveys the lacerating narrative observation. You can hear the voice simultaneously wafting from an aerial position and a position of mock polarity. His minimalist but anchor-weight tone allows a vast breathing space for the characters to flex and develop without authorial intrusion.

The reader is also privy to the burgeoning effects of parenting on each generation; the parents are a mirror to the children. Franzen’s insight into what makes people tick and how he works that into each element of the story and the interlocking compartments of his characters is done with probity and humanity. The reader, for example, vividly understands the conflicting nature of Patty, because the verity and consistency of her inconsistencies has a foundation. Her flaws are not random. Additionally, the mammoth reflections and refractions between Patty, Walter, and Richard serve to enhance and heighten the tension and thrill of the narrative and events.

There is politics, but Franzen is an equal opportunity basher to all parties. He also reserves a special deliverance with fanatics and Kool-Aid drinkers. His specific love and propriety of endangered birds and nature and conservancy in general is advanced, but it is advanced with mindfulness. He leaves his organic footprint on a message, but he is a marksman at not using platitudes to do it. He doesn’t scatter diffuse homilies with ingratiating ownership; he is nuanced and wise.

The prose is squeaky clean without ever being sterile. His witty metaphors and euphemisms are an acid delight. Pour another page for me, please. The eponymous title alone is a wealth of metonyms. And there is a moral compass, despite what some reviewers, who have not read the (entire) book, say in their non-review reviews. The compass is initially foggy, for sure, and many miles of human error and weakness and Rubicons must be crossed. The heart is not irrevocable, in the story’s theme. It is a mighty muscle, a feisty organ, and has two-way valves. Franzen has written a formidable, epic, and unforgettable story of contemporary times. The hype has a genuine backbone.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 1,206 readers
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 31, 2010)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Jonathan Franzen
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:




November 7, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, Literary, y Award Winning Author

One Response

  1. poornima - November 8, 2010


    Absolutely superlative review! Thank you.


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