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Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) by…

Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Jonathan Franzen

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6,777336545 (3.77)278
Title:Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)
Authors:Jonathan Franzen
Info:Picador (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)

  1. 41
    The War Room by Bryan Malessa (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Both are 500+ page modern epics whose stories originate in the Midwest but this one moves far beyond the territory and scope of Freedom. Represented and sold by same agent as Franzen's book and same UK publisher.
  2. 10
    Unless by Carol Shields (Cecilturtle)
  3. 21
    In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (allenmichie)
  4. 22
    The Privileges by Jonathan Dee (BillPilgrim)
    BillPilgrim: Another modern family story. Jonathan Franzen recommended The Privileges to the New Yorker book club.
  5. 11
    May We Be Forgiven: A Novel by A. M. Homes (GCPLreader)
  6. 11
    The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (hairball)
    hairball: Similar tone.
  7. 11
    Matrimony by Joshua Henkin (susiesharp)
    susiesharp: They are both about the lives of people you learn to care about yet don't always like

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» See also 278 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 292 (next | show all)
Maybe it's because I listened to this instead of reading it. Or maybe I'm just not ready for Franzen's second "great American novel."

I guess it doesn't matter. But if you see me with a Franzen novel, PLEASE STOP ME. I don't want to suffer again. ( )
  imahorcrux | Jun 22, 2016 |
I like Franzen, I love his socio-psychological works, showing ... showing all. After the events of September 11th the life in America was divided into "before" and "after". The novel reflects the reaction of the different segments of the population - holy simplicity to senile insanity. The first hundred pages are read with difficulty, constantly tunic thought: why I got all this longing ... and then the narrative captures and carries away behind him, like a raging torrent of a grain of sand. The history of ordinary people: he and she, plus one more. He - ideological fighter, bespectacled man, the upstart, mad professor. She - a successful basketball player, who grew up in a family where no one really understood and loved her. He has a flatmate - the bright musician who loves the girls and all the girls love him, so the "four-eyes" -Wolter is hopeless. She, Patty also falls in love with a musician, but... ( )
  amandaben | Jun 21, 2016 |
Self-acclaimed literature is nearly impossible to review, due in large part to the nebulous nature of the category. “Literature” is ill-defined, whose boundaries shift for any number of reasons, least among which is whether the first letter is capitalized in normal usage.

On what basis can these books be judged? One possible course of action would be to set Freedom in a ring with Great Expectations and Middlesex to let them duke it out among themselves — but that would just leave us with Free Great Sex, and there’s not a public library in the world that’ll be able to stock that title without a load of grief.

Jonathan Franzen has it let it be known his book is intended to be interred among the ranks of literary fiction, for the high-minded to fawn over now and the teenagers of the future to be bored by later. Setting the intent of this self-aggrandizement aside, readers and reviewers alike must take care to frame the novel appropriately.

To do this, one must look to the title: Freedom. Ultimately, freedom — and, by extension, Freedom — comes down to choices. Difficult choices, no-brainers, impossible choices and choices that are made for you. The title, like with his earlier work (The Corrections) before it, is as much about helping the reader keep the novel’s purpose in mind as much as it is to sell more copies. The meandering, often disjointed story can be reined in by making sure the theme is at the forefront of your thoughts. It’s especially necessary because freedom is, at its core, a completely empty word. Essentially, it’s a stand-in for “limitless choice,” aka “everything.” And while everything is the opposite of nothing, it’s just as amorphous and chaotic a concept.
The plot of Freedom, such as it is, centers around the Berglunds, a Minnesota nuclear family going through more than their share of bewildering circumstances they must face up to or ignore, at their pleasure. It’s not really possible to plot the arc of the story, except to say that the main characters seem to be the heads of this particular household, with the husband, Walter, more central to the focus than the wife, Patty. Walter is a man deeply devoted to his wife, who adulates in his attention and loves him in return for it. Their children are quite complicated beings, though Jessica, the oldest, does not appear in the story in any meaningful way until much later.

Joey, the younger son, occupies a much more prominent role both in the story and the lives of the two main characters — fiercely independent (he moves out of the family home before his 17th birthday to live with the neighbors, where his girlfriend happens to reside) while at the same time not entirely comfortable cutting off all ties to his parents. There’s infinitely more to the story, but a fear of spoilers and a concern for space prohibit me from even listing all the main characters.

The plot, though somewhat easy to follow, is extraordinarily complex. Like Corrections, the book does not track in a strictly chronological order. This does not hamper comprehensibility too much, but it does require a bit of thinking to keep a finger on when and where various events occur, especially when focus shifts from one character to the next.

The hallmark of the modern Serious Novel can be found in the tribulations — sometimes more bewildering and unlikely than your average episode of The Young and the Restless — its characters must suffer. It’s tempting to think the author has confused “voluminous” problems for “interesting” ones, but luckily the book’s strength lies more in how the characters react to various outlandish circumstances than the situations themselves.

Of course, to take the mantle of literature a work must shoulder the load of society’s burdens, to tackle the big ideas that plague our collective consciousness. 9/11. two wars, disaffected youth, the pretentiousness of disaffected youth, the middle-aged condescension toward the pretentiousness of disaffected youth, the youthful indifference toward the middle-aged condescension … even selling out, which I’m not 100 percent certain exists as a concept even in the abstract anymore.

Luckily for him — and for us readers — Franzen doesn’t even attempt to provide answers but rather seeks understanding, exploration in lieu of explanation. Part of the reasoning for this is almost certainly pragmatic, as definitive diagnoses and prescriptions can be disagreed with, countered or even dismissed. But part surely must lie, as with all things in the book, rooted in the central idea of freedom. To proclaim a solution is to inhibit the freedom of the readers to judge and choose, and to provide an answer on our own.

The characters are remarkably fleshed-out and one of the best aspects of Franzen’s work. Psychology has replaced metaphor and simile as the literary devices used to drive home a universal truth or compelling point authors want to get across. Where Nathaniel Hawthorne spent an entire chapter crafting a synecdoche about a bush growing next to a prison door, Franzen and other modern writers dig deeply into the motivations, the worries, the fears and the thought processes behind a character’s actions. These insights are especially poignant when the characters themselves seem incognizant of their own reasoning; the specificity actually provides more opportunities to interpret rather than limiting possible explanations, as one might expect.

From a prosaic standpoint, there’s a noticeable difference from Corrections. Where before a 100-plus-word, single-sentence metaphor might be thrown in to illustrate how the character has trouble forgetting, Freedom saves the run-on sentences for advancing plot — or, failing that, at least fleshing out the scene further.

The writing is not without its flaws, however. A significant portion of the first chunk of the book is a third-person autobiographical portrait of Patty — despite ostensibly being written in her hand, there’s not much difference between it and the authorial lugubriousness exhibited by Franzen. It’s an uneven bit of writing Franzen rather awkwardly backforms by having other characters praise her writing abilities, but this praise occurs only after we’ve completed the manuscript — which none of the other characters have read. It’s a bit like if Transformers 3 suddenly introduces the fact that Sam is actually half-fish, and for the rest of the movie has the other characters note, “Man, he always was a really good swimmer” despite the entire movie taking place deep in the Sahara. Additionally, double negatives pepper the novel to create a slightly more effete tone to the writing, which is not un-annoying.

As far as recommendations go, Freedom is not going to be for everyone. It can probably be enjoyed passively, eyes jumping from work to word and sentence to sentence, but it’s going to be a slog. Instead, if you’re looking for a book to engage with and think about, you’ll find a worthy opponent in Freedom. As to its qualifications as literature, no one can speak to it with any — meaningful — authority. But then, even when the American Society of People Who Decide What Literature Is (this is not a euphemism for “Oprah”) comes down on one side or the other, you still have the freedom to ignore them and form your own judgment. ( )
  thoughtbox | May 28, 2016 |
  danbrady | Apr 8, 2016 |
As good as the reviews indicate. Franzen can write women; Patty's character is expertly realized. The book offers a compelling portrait of a couple trying to deal with each other as they ride the currents of contemporary culture, participating equally in its corruptions and its moral imperatives. Themes of ecology and despoiling wind through the pages like a ride through the Midwest in an SUV. The narrative is propelled through the use of a variety of points of view: Walter the husband, Patty the wife, their children, their neighbors, their friends. I particularly enjoyed the culminating scene, where Patty parks her car in front of Walter's lakeside cottage, having driven herself to the end of her road, and remains seated, silent, in the driver's seat. The ultimate question of the book may be, who is in the driver's seat? And how much gas is in the car? ( )
  deckla | Apr 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 292 (next | show all)
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.
added by danielx | editAtlantic, BR Myers (May 13, 2012)
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.
added by lorax | editThe Nation, John Palatella (Nov 15, 2010)
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.
added by zhejw | editHarper's, Christine Smallwood (pay site) (Nov 1, 2010)
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.

» Add other authors (75 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Franzen, Jonathanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Franzen, Jonathanmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Abarbanell, BettinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Abelsen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlsen, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schönfeld, EikeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strick, CharlotteCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Go together, you precious winners all; your exultation partake to everyone. I, an old turtle, will wing me to some withered bough, and there, my mate, that's never to be found again, lament till I am lost.
The Winter's Tale ----
To Susan Golomb & Jonathan Galassi
First words
The news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally -- he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now -- but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul - the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbour who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter - environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, family man - she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz - outré rocker and Walter's old college friend and rival - still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to poor Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become "a very different kind of neighbour," an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of too much liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's intensely realized characters, as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time. [Amazon.co.uk]
Haiku summary
What does Freedom mean?
Free to use, free to preserve
Free to love, to live

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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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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