by Jonathan Franzen (2010)
While I can say that Jonathan Franzen probably deserves most of the accolades and praise for being the great American novelist, I also have to say, having just finished Freedom “Phew, I’m glad that’s over!” He’s a master at mucking in the dirt and grime of the worst in people and their messed up relationships, but I was happy to leave the Berglunds, whom Freedom chronicles, behind me.
Maybe it was tougher reading for me since I just had a son and one of the most damaged relationships is between the mother and her teenage son – but I definitely understand why friends struggled with the intensity of The Corrections, his previous novel that I found a bit more amusing and easy to read.
Here Franzen, or at least his characters, seem deeply angrier than he’s ever written before, a very apt and true portrait of our country today, I think. And while Corrections had some humor (at least I remember it having some – maybe not??) here the relief from human pain is filled with detailed information about corrupt businesses in the Iraq War, the threat of animal endangerment and overpopulation, and the complexities of environmental versus human salvation.
The writing is so sharp, so vivid and intelligent in it’s detail – I mean, it’s brilliant – but also so hard to escape, so difficult to release yourself from when you put the book down. Jim even asked me to finish it soon to improve on my mood!
I seem to be writing more about how the book made me feel than the book itself – because on paper, a simple plot synopsis doesn’t suffice. Patty and Walter are married, they have two children and their lives get messy. Every time a person achieves some happiness, it’s violently torn from them, his message being, perhaps, that life is not fair and when it is, don’t expect it to last.
You have to read it to get more than that, and despite that this write up sounds more like a warning than a recommendation, I do highly recommend it. Just give yourself room to get pretty bummed out under its influence.