Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For a book about a bunch of very miserable characters, Freedom was a surprisingly enjoyable read. I really cared about each character, as detestable as he or she may have been, and the alternating narration kept the perspective on each character's situation fresh. What I really connected with were the emotions and core motivations of the characters, especially Patty: wanting to be a "good person," the feeling of being in competition with everyone around you, wanting something but wanting to not want it at the same time. (Although I will say that I didn't very well relate to that entire segment of life where she just seems crazy and pent-up inside her marriage to Walter.) All of these emotions struck me as being real and fairly treated. That they resulted in a lot of misery, well . . . that seems fairly true of life, when all is said and done.
Of all the characters, Joey disgusted me the most. His wanton selfishness, his belief that the world owed him a good life and that he could take whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, all of those qualities sickened me, probably because I recognize people out there just like him and I truly despise them. Being conned by LBI might seem like just punishment to some, but I frankly was upset that he didn't get all of what he deserved: to end up in abase poverty or jail, without his stalker-wife or any other woman to shine her adoration all over him. But I'm getting off track.
What kept this book from a 5 star rating is probably what earned it so much literary praise: the lengthy descriptions that were so clearly intended to set this book in a particular place and time that they were almost essays in and of themselves. The sections about conservationism and birds and the environment reminded me almost of an attempt to (poorly) mimic Barbara Kingsolver. The asides about the war and the politics surrounding it seemed to be there less to explain what was happening with the characters in the novel and more to explain how thoroughly Franzen had looked into these topics before he chose to insert them into his book. This book, in my opinion, was about the characters, and apart from what details needed to be there to get them from point A to point B, the rest was just filler that I skimmed over until the next thought/event/conversation.
My only other complaint was the lack of paragraph breaks (a single paragraph should not take up more than half a page!), that that is, of course, personal preference. And, perhaps, a testament to our current culture's attention span. Bit I digress.
Bottom line: Freedom is definitely a book worth reading. Just maybe in the winter or the fall, when you can curl up and mull over it. Because this is not exactly beach reading.
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