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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
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Freedom (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Jonathan Franzen

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8,227388708 (3.78)298
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.
Member:ScienceHouse
Title:Freedom
Authors:Jonathan Franzen
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2010), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 576 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Basement Boxes

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. 21
    Matrimony by Joshua Henkin (susiesharp)
    susiesharp: They are both about the lives of people you learn to care about yet don't always like
  3. 10
    A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Umweltschützer
  4. 11
    Unless by Carol Shields (Cecilturtle)
  5. 22
    In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (allenmichie)
  6. 22
    The Privileges: A Novel by Jonathan Dee (BillPilgrim)
    BillPilgrim: Another modern family story. Jonathan Franzen recommended The Privileges to the New Yorker book club.
  7. 11
    The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (hairball)
    hairball: Similar tone.
  8. 12
    May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes (GCPLreader)
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» See also 298 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 341 (next | show all)
The main character of this large book appears to be Patty Berglund. Her husband Walter figures prominently as well, as do several other characters. But Patty is the only one who gets to write portions of her own "autobiography", oddly in the third person.

Patty was an athletic young girl who got knocked off the track to a basketball career when she injured her knee. She changed her dreams, married Walter, had children, did her best to become a super housewife. She knew all along that she was not as nice as others thought she was, but there was much she did not know about herself.

Patty was originally attracted to Walter's best friend, Richard Katz. Katz was a musician, womanizer, who initially did not respond to Patty's hints. Patty, however, found herself increasingly attracted to Walter anyway. Walter was almost an anti-Richard. Thin, geeky, an environmentalist. Something in him, though, responded to something in Patty, the ex-athlete who was not much aware of the environment.

We follow Patty and Walter through many years, dipping into the lives of their children and parents as well. Until comes a time when something has gone out of their marriage and Patty is dissatisfied in general. She has become less and less fun to be around for just about everyone. In spite of which Richard is drawn to her.

What is "freedom" in this context? The freedom to do as we please? The freedom to be away from others, to be alone? We watch as Richard continues his self-destructive life, as free as can be. We see Patty and Walter's son free himself from the nest, then later engage make some questionable choices in his career, free from interference. Patty and Walter live their own lives, essentially free of each other.

Some reviewers have called this a novel of its time, and as I think of it I can agree. In a way, it sums up life today in the US for many in the upper middle class in a way that reminds me of John Cheever. There is a lot of humor but underlying that is real warmth. Something you don't see so much in Cheever. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
It took me forever to get through this one, not because of any issues I had with the book but rather a lack of reading time. I enjoyed this so much more than The Corrections. ( )
  baruthcook | Aug 26, 2020 |
This is a book that had been sitting on my TBR shelf since it was published, for over ten years therefore I felt obligated to eventually read. My response is a little confused the book was an extremely well written, engaging, concise albeit morose snapshot of the life of an American family and that is the problem..."snapshot". Even though family drama is timeless, it included too many cultural references to the specific period the story takes place to make the story itself timeless or even memorable. ( )
  EvaJanczaruk | May 31, 2020 |
Awesome. Sometimes maddening and often depressing... but awesome. ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
Jonathan Franzen is one of those writers that people know about by word of mouth. His breakthrough novel, The Corrections, is a book that you are likely to discover in the process of unwrapping a birthday present from your uncle and aunt in Connecticut, the kind of work that an overexcited friend from your graduate school days presses into your hand and says: "You have to read this. It blew my mind."

I don't mind admitting that I, too, caught the fever. I started reading The Corrections on a plane to Los Angeles at the beginning of 2011, and by the time I finished it I had already started formulating plans to get my own family together for Christmas for the first time in more than a decade. While I found Franzen's style unattractive and pretentious, there was something real and identifiable about his characters that won me over. The author's apparent cruelty I saw as a necessary detachment on Franzen's part, important to shading the moral grays that turned each of the Lamberts into well-rounded, believable characters. As a consequence, I also went back and read his first two novels, which were solid enough.

It was with a sense of anticipation, then, that I began reading Freedom a few days ago. I was patient. I was hopeful. As I got deeper into the novel, however, there was no getting around the looming conclusion: Freedom was downright awful. By the time I reached the three-hundred page mark, just over halfway, finishing the book really did feel like a prison sentence. Dutifully, I served my time.

So what can account for this spectacular failure? How can Franzen strike such a chord with The Corrections and then come across as so utterly tone-deaf in Freedom?

Before recounting its shortcomings, I should first say what it is that I liked about Freedom. After all, I did not expect it to be an unmitigated disaster from the very beginning, and it certainly did not feel that it was going to be while reading the initial stages of the story. Other reviewers have complained that the central characters of Patty and Walter were too dull to carry the story, a view with which I heartily disagree. Although Patty's stilted "autobiography" (which Franzen, for no good reason, writes in a third-person voice that is indistinguishable from the rest of the narrative) is an incredibly clumsy approach for an established novelist, I found Franzen's depiction of their tepid romance and marriage, especially the little details of the ways in which they repeatedly hurt and betray each other, to be painfully real. This element of insight in Franzen's writing is what made The Corrections so successful, this feeling that while reading his novel you are also undergoing a painful but necessary session of emotional therapy.

Apart from the Berglund's disintegrating marriage, however, there was little to admire about Freedom. What made the early pages of the novel interesting was Franzen's critique of the ways in which human beings delude themselves. Thus, for instance, we witness Patty being led astray by her drug-addicted, emotionally manipulative college friend Eliza, who preys on Patty's guilt and lack of esteem in order control the latter's life. Similar spirals of reactive (should I say "corrective"?) behavior are set up throughout, from Joey's reaction to his parents to Patty's desire for Richard.

The novel thus provides the reader with a litany of self-destructive, guilt-ridden, passive characters - a lot like The Corrections, you might say, but here is the strange thing. Whereas Franzen, in the early stages of the novel, highlights the negative effects that flow from the weakness and endless self-pity that motivate his characters, by the second half of the novel he attempts to transform these same horrible qualities into virtues. Walter, in particular, is supposedly redeemed by the contention that his inherited negativity gives his life "meaning." Despite the utter betrayal of his own ethical standards and his staggeringly grandiose sense of self-righteousness, Walter is excused, in the narrator's eyes, because he is a "nice man." Even Walter's loser brother, Mitch, a worthless drunk who shirks all responsibility for his five children, is transformed into a Thoreau-like hero by the end, living peacefully by a lake and only working when he has to. It's a bizarre and bewildering moral u-turn that Franzen takes, down a path where I simply cannot follow him.

My increasing disillusionment with the novel as I was reading it only served to highlight other technical flaws that I might otherwise have been willing to overlook. I have already mentioned my dislike for Franzen's style in his earlier works, but in Freedom this pretentiousness reaches a level that is simply unbearable. Franzen's frantic need to provide in-depth descriptions of inane, unnecessary details and endless name-dropping was too much. Consider, for instance, this ridiculous sentence from the novel's epilogue (by which point I was at the end of my patience) in which Franzen makes a horrible contrast between the artificiality of the social networking site Twitter to the authenticity of birds in nature:

"There was plenty of tweeting on Twitter, but the chirping and fluttering world of nature, which Walter had invoked as if people were still supposed to care about it, was one anxiety too many." (p.546)

To make matters worse, there are numerous other occasions where Franzen not only constructs hopelessly unwieldy metaphors, but also proceeds to insult the reader's intelligence by explaining the symbolism: he makes a lazy parallel, for instance, between Jenna's manipulation of Joey and the dubious loyalty shown to him by his right-wing political connections (p.401); the comparison of Patty's split from Richard to America's withdrawal from Vietnam (p.510); and, worst of all, the analogy between Joey's grotesque search through his own feces for his wedding ring to his arms deal in South America, the difference being that "there was no gold ring hidden in this particular pile of s***" (p.441). No, indeed, there was not.

When I started reading Freedom, I thought I had some idea, based on my reading of his earlier novels, of what Franzen was setting out to achieve. What is most disappointing about Freedom is not that it is a failure, but that it is a betrayal of the kind of unrelenting emotional honesty that I once thought I detected in Franzen's work. A great writer is one who invites you to resist them and wins you over anyway, which is what happened to me with The Corrections. Freedom, by contrast, seems like a miscalculated attempt to preach to a particular section of the choir, and surely Franzen, who early on in the novel takes Walter to task for being unattractive precisely because he is so passively agreeable, should have understood this same dynamic in his readers. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 341 (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 (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Franzen, Jonathanprimary 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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Epigraph
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 ----
Dedication
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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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.

No library descriptions found.

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
(StevenTX)

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