15 December 2010


You have to love freedom, as much as it can be a pain in the tail some days.  Everyone is free to do pretty much whatever they want these days - be a boor, be an environmentalist, be a conservative, be an athlete, reject your parents' values, embrace your parents' values, have an affair, be a little off kilter.  This seems to be the underlying message of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom - you are free to be who you want, and you can allow your children to be who they want, but it may all not turn out the way you want it in the end.

Freedom has an interesting structure.  After an introductory section that introduces the Berglunds - Walter, Patty, Jessica, and Joey - the reader starts in on an autobiography of Patty Berglund "written at the suggestion of her therapist".  It's a good way to start changing perspective between the characters.  I almost started feeling sorry for Patty...almost (there is a specific incident that provokes empathy for her, but most of her personality is grating).  The perspective of Freedom doesn't shift as much as that of The Corrections but it does rotate so we get more sides to each character.

While I enjoyed reading Freedom, I think I like The Corrections a little better.  It felt snappier even though it still had the same change in perspective and moved back and forth in time.  Freedom is very relevant, though, and brings many current issues (terrorism, environmentalism, corporate greed, fraud, racism) to the fore.

I'm not going to write some long-winded paean to the genius that is Jonathan Franzen; it's not my schtick and whether or not he is a genius is something I really don't care about.  Freedom is a well-done book - as was The Corrections - and Franzen certainly has his own unique writing style.  He can create characters that you aren't supposed to like, that are tetchy, annoying, clingy, addicted, self-important, and make you see a situation from their perspective.  These are books to immerse yourself in rather than zip through at lightning speed.

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