Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Mike’s review

I know Franzen is a pretentious dick and this definitely informed how I read this book. Made the first chapter quite difficult to stomach, but, surprisingly, the autobiography bit is smoother for me.

“(To be dead is to be as beaten as a dad can get.)” is a tremendous sentence. The sort of sentence you can’t disagree with (unless you write it out and spend much time considering it), but no way would Patty (or any female ever) write it as only boys seek to win over their fathers.

Patty keeps saying she loved Joey too much, like that’s a real thing that doesn’t need to be explained. It’s not real, right? I grew up on the “Mama didn’t love me” side of this equation. (If I can find someone dumb enough to have a kid with me) Am I going to overcompensate for my own upbringing and ruin my kid?

“His crying had given him a boner…” leads me to believe that Franzen has never once in his life been sexually aroused.

The 9/11 references/emotions thereafter seem so off to me, but I bet feel right on to most people who have empathy.

I do not understand why the people who hate each other in this book hate each other. Patty/Walter, Patty/Joey. Maybe Patty is just a shitty character. Really, though, it seems like Franzen was determined to make Patty a shrew, but didn’t really give her any shrewish qualities except to occasionally be entirely irrational and jump to anger over things which she never justified, even in her own autobiography section (in which she is not very shrewish at all).

This ending chapter is a pretty small-minded look at ruralans. “Because God said so!” Given how much time Franzen spent fleshing out Walter, who himself is a ruralan it doesn’t make much sense to suddenly be like, fuck you, you redneck small-minded backwood pricks. Is Walter supposed to be extraordinary somehow?

“There was plenty of tweeting on Twitter, but the chirping and fluttering world of nature […] was one anxiety too many.” Franzen is determined to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Though I can’t say I necessarily started to enjoy the book once he abandoned Patty’s perspective, he at least stopped this sort of cantankerous coot shit.

I’m going to steal an idea in here for a new chapter of the Separated saga, so I win Franzen.

Val’s Response

Without some conflict there’d be no story so that’s why everyone hates each other. Most of these people just happen to be related.

Agreed that Walter’s character fell apart for no apparent reason at the end.

Val’s Review

I like Mike’s review better but I will post mine anyway.

In his first book, Corrections, J Franzen described the great American dysfunction with grim humor, and I thought it a modern classic. Was drawn to it by its media hubbub around Franzen rejecting Oprah’s bookclub inclusion at the time….

This book was similarly buzzed by being on Obama’s nightstand – I noticed it was included in Oprah’s bookclub as well.

His attention to language is what makes this book go on and on.  The reward of a poetic well-crafted phrase that comes out once in a while kept me reading. For plot or pace it made the thing drag.

I found every character to be an archetype of some kind – Patty the ego, Walter the superego, Richard the Id… the kids were prodigal son and daddy’s girl… Despite the pigeonholing of type, I thought the voice of Patty seemed to ring true.

Using Minnesota as a setting was enjoyable to me as I lived there for nearly a decade.


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