Freedom - Jonathan Franzen (Review)

Summary: From the National Book Award-winning author of “The Corrections,” a darkly comedic novel, set during George W. Bush administration, about a troubled American family.

Rating: 3.5-4/5

Review:I’ll begin with the reasons I did not like this book (although overall I really enjoyed it!), and why I didn’t feel confident giving it a solid 4. Basically: too long. I’m pretty sure most who have read it are in agreement on this. It just could have used some editing, and while I found a lot of the population control statistics and passages interesting, I was really having a hard time with all of the Cerulean Warbler info. I know, it’s probably just lazy reading but it wasn’t exactly necessary. Definitely didn’t ruin the book for me though.

I was also not super-thrilled by the formatting of Patty’s narration. It sounded WAY too much like the rest of the book for it to even bother being separated as a “autobiography”. Not to mention, it was unrealistically formal. Not sure what the idea behind that was? It felt out of place.

There is definitely a certain demographic for Franzen’s writing. It’s not anything I’d give to my parents, as I feel fairly certain that a lot of the political and social satire would go over their heads. I don’t mean that in a patronizing way, just that it seems very oriented towards a young/hipster/liberal/city-based crowd. Fortunately, I happen to fit into that demographic and so I found a lot of it hilarious. I know that a ton of people probably find Franzen obnoxious and “pretentious” but I think he’s well aware of how he’s coming across, and is doing it on purpose.

This book falls into a category of which I like to call Holden Caulfield Syndrome. It seems to me that everyone who absolutely HATES Holden and Catcher in the Rye are eerily similar to his character. I think it’s ridiculous to read Catcher and not ON SOME LEVEL connect and understand with Holden’s irrationality and over-emotional thoughts. If you genuinely think he’s awful and you are nothing like him, you’re probably terribly unrealistic and in your blindness are actually acting exactly as he does. Similarly, Franzen’s characters are selfish, whiny, annoying, but REALISTIC. I’m sorry but even the best of us are pretty fucking annoying and self-obsessed at times. I find it kind of disorienting reading his work because I find traits of myself in EVERY character, and I’m extremely upset about it because none of them are desirable. But that. is. the. point. He didn’t write “bad” characters simply because they are sometimes unlikable. He wrote brilliantly in-depth characters, because he intended to have them be imperfect. And I don’t care what anyone says, if you absolutely hate all of them it’s because you are hating the characteristics you dislike the most in yourself. Instead of recognizing it, you are taking it out on the characters and shutting the book. And that is the reason I enjoyed Freedom so much. It’s rare to find a story that really makes you look at yourself with a critical eye, which I felt was accomplished - and is only emphasized by how many people insist the characters were 100% awful and unlikable. Denial is strong! I really liked the end as well - I’m usually not one for happy endings, but I thought it fit really well.

Final Thoughts: If you fit into aforementioned-demographic, I would give Franzen a try - but maybe start with The Corrections. I think it was an easier read. If you enjoy that, than definitely look into Freedom. If you like character studies - it is fantastic. If you want an epic storyline with adventure/intrigue - don’t bother.

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