Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

This book was chosen as one of Oprah's Book Club picks. I wasn't sure if that was supposed to be funny - since Franzen created all that controversy when she picked his first novel The Corrections so many years ago. But, while I hated The Corrections and found the characters' self-obsessionn and clueless suburban angst quite trying, I decided to give Franzen's new one a shot because I have recently thoroughly enjoyed his fiction. Other than the fact that Freedom is about 200 pages too long, it definitely had its moments. It's difficult to describe exactly what this book is about - though there is definitely a lot more suburban angst going on. The book basically centers around a middle-aged couple in Minnesota named Patty and Walter Berglund. Patty, a former college basketball star turned stay-at-home mom, is an annoyingly smug know-it-all. Her husband, who seems to genuinely love her for reasons I can't quite discern, is consumed with his college best friend/famous musician. Later in the book Walter also becomes obsessed with preventing overpopulation and his young Southeast Asian assistant. Amidst all this chaos, the Berglunds kids also have problems of their own. There are times when I read books with characters I love so much that I wish the author would just delve into their every day mundane lives and I could just follow them for pages - as if they were in their own television series for year after year. Franzen has kind of done this with his characters - just given us their lives, reaching back to their experiences growing so the reader can better understand their motivations and actions, and then presenting their present day story. Yet, none of his character evoked any sympathy in me and I just found them all to be hopelessly flawed bad people. Certainly, they had their moments - and reasons for their negative actions, but mostly I just hoped they'd all get their just deserts in the end. All that being said about the characters themselves, this is a really well written book and given the length, Franzen does manage to make it all basically relevant and necesary to the overall message and purpose of the book (or what I took away as the overall message!)

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