Monday, August 22, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Humans are blindly destroying the earth; meanwhile, look into my eyes and tell me that you love me!

This book turned out to be a big disappointment for me, partly, I think, because I loved The Corrections so much. The experience of that book was like opening a treasure chest full of gold and love and being awed and elevated by the artistry. Freedom had a terrific opening that dragged me right in, but rather quickly soon after I was thinking, why won’t this woman shut up!

Maybe the disappointment gets back to what is the purpose of a novel - my preference is purely aesthetic, but others may think differently – perhaps the novel has a social/political purpose. Someone should call attention to overpopulation, the corruption of the Iraq war, rampant materialism, the housing bubble, mountain top removal mining, and feline destruction of song birds,shouldn't they? Is it asking too much to entertain the reader?

The main characters are Patty and Walter Berglund who are liberal do gooders living a wholesome life in St Paul. Patty’s a little overattached to her older bratty son Joey, that’s all and she's always had a thing for a footloose family friend, Richard. He doesn’t like to be tied down the way Walter does. Patty slips deeper into a funk over her wasted life while Walter falls for a young co worker, full of life and oddly enough, extremely pretty.

There’s a whiff of misogyny about the proceedings (although Franzen is genuinely interested in the female characters – they take up most of the space). The most sympathetic character is a young woman who never criticizes, mere acquiesces. You feel there is something broken with her intellect, like a Minnesota autism. But she is Love and until Patty figures out how to behave like her, and nearly freeze to death in her devotion to her man, she will never find true happiness.

The final section of the book is all about cranks talking and cranks fucking and was difficult to plow through. Ginned up rhetoric cannot make the characters fly.

I admire the ambition and the sense of writing an “important” novel. But it helps to bring the emotions along for the ride. I probably would have liked this better if I hadn’t read the Corrections first.

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