Summary and book reviews of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom

A Novel

by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2010, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 608 pages

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Book Summary

Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. An indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul - the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter - environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man - she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz - outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival - still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become "a very different kind of neighbor," an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

Excerpt
Freedom

The news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally-he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now-but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in the nation's capital. His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times ("arrogant," "high-handed," "ethically compromised") with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.

Walter and Patty were the young ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Atlantic - B. R. Myers

Jonathan Franzen’s juvenile prose creates a world in which nothing important can happen. ... Franzen does not take his story very seriously, but the irony is indiscriminate and directionless; he hints at no frame of reference from which we are to judge his prose critically. Nor are we to imagine that a fool or semiliterate is addressing us. The same narrator who gives us “sucked” and “very into” also deploys compound adjectives, bursts of journalese, and long if syntactically crude sentences. An idiosyncratic mix? Far from it. We find the same insecure style on The Daily Show and in the blogosphere; we overhear it on the subway. It is the style of all who think highly enough of their own brains to worry about being thought "elitist," not one of the gang.

Christian Science Monitor - Yvonne Zipp

The characters are vintage Franzen, which is to say that they are toxically self-absorbed and so competitive they should come equipped with video-game counters, the better to pinpoint where everyone stands in the scorekeeping. ... Franzen’s acid sense of humor is the book’s chief joy, along with some truly terrific dialogue. Readers who seek out the pleasure of words strung perfectly in sentences will find much to admire in Freedom. Those who need to like the characters they’re reading about, however, should flee.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

This finely fanged tale of neighborly spite and camouflaged jealousy lets you relish your own superiority - if you don't recoil at the narrator's smugness, which is perhaps what always separates Franzen's fans from his detractors. .... We've read this story before in The Corrections, back when it was witty, when its satire of contemporary family, business and politics sounded brash and fresh, when its revival of social realism was so boisterous that it ripped the hinges off the doors of American literature. The most anticipated, heralded novel of this year gives us a similarly toxic stew of domestic life, but Franzen's wit has mostly boiled away, leaving a bitter sludge of dysfunction. ...

Esquire

…a great novel…While his contemporaries content themselves with small books about nothing much or big books about comics, Franzen delivers the massive, old-school jams. It's not that Franzen's prose makes other writers seem untalented; it's that he makes them seem so lazy, so irrelevant, so lacking in the kind of chutzpah we once expected from our best authors. Freedom doesn't name check War and Peace for nothing. It's making a claim for shelf space among the kind of books that the big dogs used to write. The kind they called important. The kind they called greats.

The New York Times

Jonathan Franzen's galvanic new novel, Freedom, showcases his impressive literary toolkit—every essential storytelling skill, plus plenty of bells and whistles—and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life.

Kirkus Reviews

If 'freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose' (as Kris Kristofferson wrote), this book uses too many words to convey too much of nothing.

Library Journal

As in his National Book Award winner, The Corrections, Franzen reveals a penchant for smart, deceptively simple, and culturally astute writing. Highly recommended.

Booklist

Starred Review. Passionately imagined, psychologically exacting, and shrewdly satirical, Franzen's spiraling epic exposes the toxic ironies embedded in American middle-class life..

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The first question facing Franzen's feverishly awaited follow-up is whether it can find its own voice in its predecessor's shadow. In short: yes, it does, and in a big way.

Amazon (Best of the Month)

[H]is first in nine years since The Corrections. Happy to say, it's very much a match for that great book, a wrenching, funny, and forgiving portrait of a Midwestern family.

Reader Reviews

Bobbi

Too long-too little
I have been trying for over 1/3 of the book to get interested and care about the characters. So far I have invested a lot of time without much reward. The story is familiar and predictable. The characters are weak and not likable. I'm thinking ...   Read More

Carole

Give me freedom from Freedom!
Spare me the pretentious style, the boring narration, the stereotypical depiction of a generation based on nothing real. I read this book ONLY because our book club required it. Most of the time I was throwing up in my brain. What was so important ...   Read More

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