Friday, November 12, 2010
FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen (2010) HarperCollins Canada
After hearing Franzen read from FREEDOM at IFOA in October, I was lured to crack the spine of his most-recently lauded magnum opus that landed him on the cover of TIME Magazine (joining Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Robert Frost and Stephen King as one of the few writers to do so) and found him forgiven by Oprah who made her own corrections by selecting this novel as her next book club pick, deifying him in the process.
FREEDOM is a brick of a book weighing in at 562 pages and it is not for those of you who are looking for a page-turner to get you through your next trans-Atlantic flight. But, it is worth the time and attention that it requires. Franzen is a literary novelist and he takes his writing seriously.
I'd already met Walter and Patty Berglund in an excerpt in THE NEW YORKER, so knew a little of what to expect at least stylistically of this epic narrative about contemporary love and marriage. There are the stereotypic threats to Patty and Walter's partnership: the younger woman (Walter's assistant, of course) and the college rival roommate (who just happens to be a minor rock star on whom Patty has had a crush for over 20 years).
The Berglunds have two adult children, Jessica and Joey, who do their best to assert their navel-gazing importance. And, though there are many tears throughout the narrative--most of them understandable and pain-driven--I didn't find myself weeping alongside the characters as I did when I read THE CORRECTIONS, Franzen's previous novel that completely exhausted me and left me gobsmacked in awe at his capacity to render fully formed such flawed beings.
Like Dickens, Franzen manages to write a convincing cast of supporting characters who weave memorably in and out as the story moves from the present to the past and back again. And, he takes on big issues increasingly relevant today: environmentalism, moral courage, responsibility.
There were times that I felt bogged down by detail in the middle of the book and frustrated by the narcissism of Joey (who certainly made my smacking hand itch) especially; however, I suspect being irritated is entirely the point.
In FREEDOM Jonathan Franzen has offered up a looking glass to contemporary North American culture and it is no small wonder when we shudder at the image of what is reflected back.