Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

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Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

Post by Graham on Wed Sep 05, 2018 6:12 pm

You know how you marry the ordinary guy but every so often the one you fell in love with hurtles back into your life like a blazing comet?

Doesn’t happen? Me neither.

Patty Berglund is a reasonably happy housewife with two children and reliable husband Walter. Richard Katz, Walter’s old college roommate, is the charismatic musician following a haphazard career and bedding young fans in between his sporadic wooing of Patty. Theirs is just one of the stories that make up this sprawling book. In fact there are enough to fashion another three or four novels. The Berglund’s son Joey defies his father’s liberal principles and profits in the free-for-all following the Iraq war. Patty recounts her college days, when, with her sporting successes ignored by her parents, a stalker worms her way into her life.

I read Franzen’s The Corrections a few years ago and remember finding it well written but depressing. At the time I put it down to its subject matter which dwelt on the indignities of old age. The same has happened here but I realise it is more to do with Franzen’s cynical viewpoint. He exposes  the tawdriness of everyone’s motives, the meanness of their actions and the self-centred nature of their every thought. I get enough of this at home and I want to believe there is more to human existence. True there is resolution for most of the participants and some kind of happiness but they seem like afterthoughts when they, and us, are fed up with the baseness of everyday life.

Freedom is absorbing and full of intelligent, well-crafted writing. Every page has phrases other writers would pawn their soul for. The workings of the plot both ring true and yet tell an extraordinary story. In the end however I don’t think I can forgive Franzen for withholding my sympathy for his characters till the last pages. I’ll wait till I am suffering a dangerous bout of optimism before I read another of his novels.

Graham
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