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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

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,993287696 (3.78)247
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. 20
    In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (allenmichie)
  3. 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
  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. 01
    May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes (GCPLreader)
  6. 01
    The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (hairball)
    hairball: Similar tone.

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Showing 1-5 of 245 (next | show all)
Everyone thought this book was so great. I don't quite get why. ( )
  KRoan | Jul 25, 2014 |
Don't believe the hype. I read Franzen's previous novel, The Corrections, and found it completely forgettable. But after Oprah and everyone else declared Freedom to be the greatest book ever, I suggested it to my book club.

Freedom follows the relationship of Midwestern, upper middle class Patty and Walter Berglund, who meet in college, get married and have two children. Things get complicated for them, as for all Americans, around the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

I guess Franzen is trying to explore what it means to be "Free" in this era, but his style is so detached, it's hard to feel anything for these characters. A large section of the book is written as a third-person "autobiography" written by Patty. (What autobiographer writes in the third person?) A fundamental problem is that I don't think Franzen understands how women think. I found Patty very difficult to relate to.

I honestly wanted to quit reading a few times, but I couldn't because I had volunteered to lead the book club discussion. For me, at least the ending paid off, but didn't redeem an otherwise heartless story. The rest of my book club, women ranging in age from 30s to 70s, hated it too. ( )
1 vote keneumey | Jun 4, 2014 |
Franzen's new novel is brilliant, creepy and not without some flaws (surprise. surprise. it's not perfect). I was totally enthralled for the first 400 pages, but much less so for the last 150. Which either means that the novel is unjustifiably over-long or that I'm just not a big fan of the traditional narrative strategies employed to bring resolution and closure to a novel. Neither interests me much. And Franzen does tie up Freedom pretty neatly at The End. Before I say anything more about this novel in particular, I'm going to indulge in a little rant about characters in novels in general. Unlike many readers, I don't expect characters to be "realistic" in the sense that they need to remind me of someone I know or ever have known. Characters must, on the other hand, be authentic (fit) within the world of the novel. Characters in novels need to be realistic as characters in novels. Most have a lineage that extends back through the history of the genre. That said, it is a rare and thrilling experience to meet a character who is entirely new (to me). One of the very few I can think of is Josef Kavalier in Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. On the other hand, Walter Berglund, one of the main protagonists in Freedom, although nominally more realistic, reminds me of T.C.Boyle's misanthropic nature-lover Delaney Mossbacher in his much more allegorical novel Tortilla Curtain. If I had to categorize either of these novels, I'd call them empathetical-satirical novels. Much of Freedom is is both a dead-on skewering of contemporary America and highly comedic. But Franzen forgives his characters almost every one of their foibles and flaws and wants his reader to do the same.
The story in Freedom is mainly told from the point of view of Walter (a rather annoyingly Good Person, who is dishonest with himself for most of the novel) & his wife Patty (Emerson) Berglund (high school & college star basketball player cum consummate if somewhat whacko mom).The most engaging chapters in Freedom belong, however, to Richard Katz, Walter Berglund's best friend from college, cult rocker & cad ("Mountaintop Removal") and to Walter & Patty Berglund's Republican son, Joey ("Womanland").
Most of the secondary female characters in the book remain largely indecipherable: Walter & Patty's daughter Jessica; Walter's young assistant, eventual lover and only "person of color" in the novel, Lalitha; and, Connie, Joey's high school girlfriend, financial backer & ultimately, wife. It's safe to say that Franzen knows and understands his male characters better than his female ones, even if Patty Berglund's "Autobiography" does take up a lot of page space in this long novel.
It also occurs to me that, oddly, for a 21st century American novel set largely in urban areas like St. Paul, New York & Washington, D.C, the characters are universally (with the somewhat minor exception of Lalitha)white, so white in fact, that even the Jews among them all seem to be blondes. This isn't exactly a criticism (well, perhaps, it is) but just something to notice. There is one scene late in the novel, where Patty Berglund, attending her father's funeral, remarks on the poorer, darker-skinned mourners seated in the rear of the church--the faceless, nameless pro bono clients of her high-powered , much-respected and overly busy lawyer dad, whose lives inadvertently & negatively impacted her childhood.
Bottom line: Freedom is worth reading, warts and all. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
This book was absolutely fascinating. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The time flew by and I didn't even realise. I'm not quite sure what it was that hooked me, even though the characters were at times annoying (although I couldn't seem to help but sympathise with them and their annoyingness as the book went on) and there were a few too many graphic references to human turds. It felt I was simply reading page after page of characters making bad choices and refusing to learn from mistakes and then of course, being depressed.

I am not making light of depression. At all. But every single character in this book, save Jessica, seemed to have a struggle with depression they did little about, except wallow. And the people in their lives, recognising that said people had depression, didn't do much about it except suggest they be medicated. We can see how well that worked.

And yet, for all the little annoyances and the tangents that occurred, I found myself enjoying it and turning the pages quickly to see what mess the characters made of their lives next.

Not quite as good as the hype, but 3.5 stars. ( )
  crashmyparty | Apr 22, 2014 |
Let's talk for a second about Ego. I think this is the perfect place to do that. First of all, because Ego is a thing that we avid readers and writers are very generously gifted with. Second, because Mr Franzen's Ego can only be compared to something like Mt Everest. Actually, no: let's do Jupiter. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Ego as a bad thing per se. It just comes with the package in the very first years of your life, giving you a strong personality, opinions, leadership, and often some basic arrogance, entitlement, and a disproportionate sense of your own importance. Among the obsessive reviewers here, he who is without sin, please go ahead and cast the first stone.

* * moment of silence * *

Ok, moving on - I've seen and read some interviews with Franzen, and yes, he does come across as an author who believes his books are incredibly important. Important to America (Freedom!). Important to the world. It's not difficult to perceive this self-importance in the book itself, either, so I perfectly understand the readers who (perhaps pushed over the edge by that astonishingly irritating Times cover, or by the deluge of foam-at-the-mouth praising reviews for this book) decided to hate Franzen from the start.

I was one of them, for sure. I was ready to shout: "soap opera!", whatever story Franzen was going to tell me. So, in short, I started by really not wanting to like this book. And my mission received a strong help by the first 200 pages, where Franzen presents Patty, one of the most difficult and unpleasant charachters of the book, in a sort of autobiographical memoir written by herself. Her cold, selfish attitude is made even uglier by the cynicism and negativity and hopelessness that permeate this first portion of the book. Just so negative.

But then, when I was just moments from condemning Franzen to never-ending hatred, some magic happened. The portion about another character, Katz, started, and I realized that the tone of the first 200 pages was just a partial act. A trick, maybe. Franzen, like a chamaleon, propels us forward into the world of Katz, the rock musician, and the register changes completely. I was very impressed by that, actually. And then again, the narrating voice develops, evolves, and keeps changing depending on the perspective and point of view. A wonderful ear.

He actually did something similar in "The Corrections", where he used the initial part of the novel almost as an obstacle for the reader, to overcome and then slide into the rest of it. But the difficult part was much shorter there.

The interview with Katz about the state of music is a little masterwork. Just like his first interaction with Walter and Lalitha.

Franzen's writing style is extremely clever, elegant and unsentimental, a little too cold, mental and cerebral for my personal taste, almost chilling in his acute, poignant, accurate, objective, hyper-rational observations and descriptions. More than once, while reading this book, I thought of that quote by (someone): "If we spent our life constantly looking at reality the way it actually is, we would go absolutely mad in a very short time".

There is a risk inherent in describing everything through words, and rationalizing reality too much: that you end up missing the point. Missing the heart, the emotions, what really matters. Similarly, there is a limit to thinking, beyond which it becomes just a painful excercise in analysis and dissolution of reality in smaller and smaller pieces, until you find either sublime madness (as above) or nothing at all (the terrifying emptiness at the very center of the onion).

Franzen's ambition is so huge it's almost childish. He set out to write with a mission, and the mission was to go straight to the heart of America (Freedom). Sounds like he wants to be a Great Writer, like Tolstoj or Hugo. Someone who actually changes the world, someone who has an IMPACT on society. And he does undoubtetly have an impact, because his books sell millions of copies, however I'm afraid to say, it is probably a much less "serious" impact than what he might think. People read Franzen because they love to read, or because they just want to be entertained, maybe by something smart with a little bit of thinking too, but not because they want to change anything, the world, or (especially!) themselves. Yes, there is always a little seed that might stay with you, but then even a pop song can leave a seed in you, or a movie, and today we have just too many freaking seeds to be properly receptive to any one of them. We just move on to the next one. As important as it might be, it is all, at the end of the day, entertainment.

In other words, it seems like Franzen is unable to apply that immense ability for cold razor-sharp objectivity to himself - his own role as a writer. I would say: Relax! It's just a book! But of course, that is the whole point of being a very good writer. You Do Not Relax.

Finally, I disagree with the comment made by some reviewers that the novel falls quickly into the soap opera realm. This novel deserves more attention. I am a very slow reader, and I think it was a good thing with this book. No soap opera is as complex, intelligent, and ambitious as this novel. On the other hand, many novels would look like soap operas if read at the speed of light.

Overall - an impressive, brilliant, complex, sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, extremely well-written novel about the life of an American couple. ( )
  tabascofromgudreads | Apr 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 245 (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.
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.
added by Widsith | editThe Guardian, Jonathan Jones (Aug 23, 2010)

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Franzen, Jonathanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abarbanell, BettinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schönfeld, EikeTranslatorsecondary 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)

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