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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom (2010)

by Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Franzen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,714332556 (3.77)276
Recently added byMidge427, Yardape, private library, AlocerVancouver, Chris.ty, sandrikoti, rnbwpnt, DGSBiblio, eight08
  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 276 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 289 (next | show all)
  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 |
Freedom is about sex in the same way that life is about sex. That is to say, Freedom is a story about families. And families are created by sex. In other words, life is not so much "about" sex as formed by it. I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.

But first, the bird on the cover. Why put a bird's beady eye on the front cover? Well, Freedom is an environmental novel, to sure. Yet there’s more to the image than that because Franzen is what we in the biz call a "birder"; i.e., one who watches birds, obsessively, for taxonomic purposes. OK, yes, there: I implied it. I feel that Franzen’s birding may be more a pose of polymathery than a reflection of a true interest or passion; and by putting the beady-eyed bird on Freedom’s cover, Franzen is reminding us of his impressive polymathery. And it is impressive. But its presence takes me a bit out of the story. Ugh. I am so full of myself sometimes. There are of course literary reasons for the bird, too; for birds are also symbols of freedom and unrestraint. Moreover, birds are fragile and dependent upon the environment for life.

I admire Jonathan Franzen as a writer. I don’t admire him for his birding. Then again, I admire no one for their birding. I am not a fan of birds. I hate their beaks. I distrust their beady eyes. (They are, after all, the puny progeny of predatory dinosaurs.) And it sucks that they alone in this world are given the freedom of self-propelled flight.

Here are the characters: Patty, the aging girl-jock; Walter her husband and environmentalist firebrand; Richard, the indie rockstar; and, lastly, Joey, Patty and Walter’s son, who’s involved in an illegal arms-dealing scheme as well as in a tawdry love-affair with the strangely compelling Connie.

There is a love triangle: Walter and Patty and Richard. Walter and Patty are married. Richard is Walter's friend from college. Patty has had a crush on Richard since she met him back in college -- but, recall, Patty's married to Walter. Things get deliciously ugly.

To the point: There’s a scene of sexual betrayal in the novel that sickened my heart. It, the action, was wrong, and it felt wrong, and I felt sullied by it -- yet sullied in a salutary sense, if that makes any sense. I felt sullied to my betterment. I felt that I had lost everything and was subsequently shown how to earn it back. Franzen, it should be said, handled the matter perfectly, craft-wise. I felt the moment coming, and I dreaded it; this was partly because Franzen so clearly delineated the reasons why the participants’ coming together would be a disaster. And then, impossibly, horribly, they hook up. And it is a disaster. Yet something in it, regarding the sturm-and-misplaced-drang of human longing and loneliness, is also deeply truthful, right. And witnessing that "rightness" about how two broken people who've done a terrible thing can still, in some way, be good to and for each other, even if only a little, felt salutary.

Strange, isn't it? Life and families. We’re taught from a very early age that there are two kinds of people: Family and Strangers. Insiders and outsiders. And yet, the families that lovers create are composed, essentially, of two strangers, who, for certain specific and compelling biological and spiritual reasons, have decided to simply ignore each others’ “stranger-ness” and move on past that fact, presto chango, into family. Sex contains in its congress sweet obligations that two strangers can respond to and thus turn twain into one, and become family. For what are babies, ultimately, other than strangers who come to you both from within yourself and from somewhere neither of you know where?

The decision to make a family is an agreement that can never be gone back on, regardless of divorce or death. Family, that is, are always family -- even if you haven't spoken to each other in decades. And so, potentially, any stranger could become a family member just like that, is my point. And yet of all the billions of hearts enclosed in meat-skeletons moving about autonomously on this planet, why do we limit our hearts’ rhythms to only the small handful we call “relations.”

So the novel is about taxonomy, see? The taxonomy of families and not just birds.

Sex therefore is necessarily a social not private good. Sex is not a private good. There is no such thing as private sex. Oh yes there is, one immediately thinks, thinking of myriad, countless examples. And yet if these examples were purely private we shouldn’t know of their existence, number one, and, number two, even so-called “private” sexual indulgences are mediated, in one way or another, by other people; e.g., one's imaginative fantasies didn't spring into one's head ex nihilo, is my point; for ex nihilo nihil fit, right? Basically the book advocates sexual responsibility. Not for prudish reasons but for environmental ones. Franzen makes a clear connection between environmental responsibility and sexual responsibility; and in so doing, he lays bare a fundamental fact of life that we ignore to our peril: A society that recklessly (= licentiously, without regard to consequence) defiles its earthly environment is also a society that will recklessly defile its social/sexual environment. And vice versa. A socio-economically responsible sexuality would occur in a setting where the participants are wholly responsible for and bonded to each other in a properly functioning family. The converse, then, is that responsible treatment of same sets the foundation for an “environment” that more than one person can enjoy.

The loneliest character in Freedom is the, on the face of it, most appealing character (and the most sexually reckless character -- not judging, just saying): the rock star. At the end of the novel he just fades away into nothing. I honestly can’t remember what happens to him. He has success as an indie rock star. He and Patty couple disastrously and then break up. That’s it. He simply goes away. He’s loyal to nobody and nobody’s loyal to him. He is a pretty bird, plumage all afire, tapping his beak on the mirror of self, at first puzzled then enraged by the strangely quiet, almost aggressively quiet, bird in the mirror, whom he thinks is someone else, but no it’s actually him. And thus he sits in his cage all alone, unaware that he’s in a cage and unaware that he’s alone. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
It's true that the author's voice does become a bit obtrusive. Many of the lines are more "Franzen-y" than what the characters could possibly be thinking or saying.

The book's topicality in a "current affairs" sense is actually a weakness. The sections on Iraq, the environment, etc., didn't seem very interesting or original, and I skimmed them.

I went in expecting a David Brooks-style "comic sociology" of the Volvo-driving, NPR-listening class and I actually don't think that's the main strength of the book. The habits, mores, consumption patterns, etc., aren't really the author's main interest.

The best aspect of the book is its very thoughtful, carefully constructed exploration of the title topic. A number of the characters are given the classic choice between two possible romantic partners, or some equivalent -- and these choices are very difficult.

Many moral philosophers mistakenly think the most difficult moral problems is determining which of two very similar but improbable choices is the right one. I disagree. I think almost all moral problems occur when we know in our heart of hearts which is the right choice, but have extremely powerful motivations for not choosing it. This is the situation that Franzen constructs for several of his characters. He clearly demonstrates that the universal and almost irresistible appeal of money, sex, status, and power isn't just a concern of the greedy, lustful, social-climbing or ambitious, but affects high-minded, "Minnesota-nice" tree-hugger types as well.

I was pulled along by the "what will happen to this person" question, presumably a basic requirement of a good novel, but what elevates this novel is that the "what will happen" is not just a matter of the character's material station in life (marriage, career, etc.) but about how they will respond to the moral choices put before them.

Another impressive side of this -- for some reason I'm thinking of Jean Renoir's "Rules of the Game" in comparison -- is the exploration of discrepancies between what the characters consciously want, do, think and feel, and what they think they want, do, think and feel. It shows very concretely what it means for an individual person to be complex, internally divided, opaque to oneself, and imperfect in self-knowledge -- all keywords which are commonly used somewhat abstractly.

Bottom line: "freedom" is not just something for political theory, theology, or philosophy of action, but something deeply important to the lives of everyday people.

PS: "Freedom" is also the name of the most useful application ever: it disconnects you from the Internet for a number of minutes set by you. I strongly urge all GoodReads members to acquire and use a copy. The relevancy to this novel is left as an exercise for the reader. ( )
  benjamin.lima | Mar 21, 2016 |
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen examines the lives of Walter and Patty Berglund. After meeting at college in the '70s, Walter and Patty settle in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Patty is a stay-at-home mom while Walter is a socially conscious environmental lawyer. In the opening chapter "Good Neighbors" we learn right from the start that the Berglund's life is currently not as idyllic as it seems it once was and that there are some major problems. In the rest of the novel Franzen chronicles the details of Walter and Patty's lives, together and separately, as well as the lives of their children and Walter's best friend from college.

Freedom consists of several intricate narratives. Clearly freedom exists in many forms and the questions that can arise when we assert our personal liberties are a multifaceted theme in the novel. The novel also spans many years, the current events happening during those years, and several locations. Franzen character development is brilliant. Depending upon the point of view and perspective, the actions, motives and thoughts of each character can be interpreted differently, favorably or not, which gives the characters the depth found in real life. They can all be self absorbed and unlikable, but their motives aren't always as clearly defined and delineated. And no matter how hard you try, sometimes things do fall apart because everyone is an individual making their own choices.

Obviously much has been written about Freedom, which was an anxiously anticipated novel, so I'm not sure how much more my thoughts can add to the discussion. I could point out that I too was anxiously awaiting it's publication - until it became an Oprah book at which point I decided to wait and read it later. This is a prejudice that I freely admit to. I'm pleased I have finally read it and am surprised at the relatively low ratings it has received because I thought it was a wonderfully satisfying novel. Yes, the characters can be unsympathetic, but they were richly developed. Ultimately, through the lives of its characters, Freedom captured an underlying insight into our times.
Very Highly Recommended; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/
( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 289 (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
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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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