FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

FREEDOM

KIRKUS REVIEW

The epic sprawl of this ambitious yet ultimately unsatisfying novel encompasses everything from indie rock to environmental radicalism to profiteering in the Middle East.

The first novel from Franzen in almost a decade invites comparisons with its predecessor, The Corrections, which won the 2001 National Book Award and sparked controversy with Oprah. Both are novels that attempt to engage—even explain—the times in which they transpire, inhabiting the psyches of various characters wrapped in a multigenerational, Midwestern family dynamic. Yet the plot here seems contrived and the characters fail to engage. The narrative takes the tone of a fable, as it illuminates the lives of Patty and Walter Berglund, politically correct liberals who have a seemingly idyllic marriage in Minnesota, and their two children, who ultimately find life way more complicated than the surface satisfaction of their parents had promised. Through flashbacks, chronological leaps and shifts in narrative voice (two long sections represent a third-person autobiography written by Patty as part of her therapy), the novel provides the back stories of Patty and Walter, their disparate families and their unlikely pairing, as the tone shifts from comic irony toward the tragic. Every invocation of the titular notion of “freedom” seems to flash “theme alert!”: “He was at once freer than he’d been since puberty and closer than he’d ever been to suicide.” “She had so much free time, I could see that it was killing her.” “People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily.” “But it didn’t feel like a liberation, it felt like a death.” Such ideas seem a lot more important to the novelist than the characters in which he invests them, or the plot in which he manipulates those characters like puppets. Franzen remains a sharp cultural critic, but his previous novels worked better as novels than this one does.

If “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (as Kris Kristofferson wrote), this book uses too many words to convey too much of nothing.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-15846-0
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2010




THE “WE’RE NOT DRINKING THE KOOL-AID” LIST OF 2010 (ACCLAIMED BOOKS—OR BOOKS BY ACCLAIMED AUTHORS—THAT DIDN’T LIVE UP TO OUR EXPECTATIONS):

Fiction BY NIGHTFALL by Michael Cunningham
by Michael Cunningham
Nonfiction ABOUT A MOUNTAIN by John D’Agata
by John D’Agata
Fiction IMPERIAL BEDROOMS by Bret Easton Ellis
by Bret Easton Ellis
Fiction FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen
by Jonathan Franzen

MORE BY JONATHAN FRANZEN

NonfictionTHE KRAUS PROJECT by Karl Kraus
by Jonathan Franzen
NonfictionFARTHER AWAY by Jonathan Franzen
by Jonathan Franzen
NonfictionTHE DISCOMFORT ZONE by Jonathan Franzen
by Jonathan Franzen

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionTHE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta
by Tom Perrotta
FictionTHE FLAMETHROWERS by Rachel Kushner
by Rachel Kushner
FictionCANADA by Richard Ford
by Richard Ford