The acclaimed new novel from the author of The Corrections. 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 neighbour who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do ...
The acclaimed new novel from the author of The Corrections. 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 neighbour 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, 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 - outre rocker and Walter's old college friend and rival - still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to poor Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become "a very different kind of neighbour," 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 too much 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 intensely realized 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.
I started off liking the book and found the characters and writing very interesting. As the book progressed, I felt as though he kept adding nuances, quirks, stories, etc. just to keep the book going. I became tired of reading and found myself skimming the last 75 pages just to see how it ended.
Jun 24, 2011
Thinking back on Freedom
Entertainment magazine had an article by Stephen King and the best books he read last year - Freedom was #2. It took me awhile to get into the book and I wasn't sure if I liked it. However, of all the books I read this past year, this is the one that I keep thinking about. I recall many passages and moments. Freedom was well worth my time.
May 17, 2011
Self-imposed Yuppie Hell
I?m not quite sure what to say about Freedom by Jonathan without my own literary prejudices and tastes polluting the discussion. It wasn't a bad book by any means. Full of irony, satire and, ultimately, redemption on one hand and vaguely unlikeable, self-crippling characters and a meandering story on the other, Mr. Franzen takes his readers on a long hard road. This, apparently, is what we want in a literary writer these days--pages and pages of detail and minutiae of everyday life in the creation of "real" characters. Frankly I find the drama of ?soiled sheets and dirty milk glasses? and the multi-generational history of every character we meet a little wearisome, but, perhaps, I?m in the minority.
I can't help but compare this book to the one I just finished: Empire Falls by Richard Russo. The two books have a very similar theme--the crumbling values (and value) of the middle class. Russo?s Midwesterners are a harder scrabble lot than Franzen?s upper middle class Minnesotans. They are, of course just a flawed as Franzen's--but somehow more sympathetic. A hard-working manager of a local restaurant attempting to juggle his extended family, work and his own wavering self-worth was to me infinitely more sympathetic than the neurotic, entitled, navel-gazing lawyers, jocks and musicians of Freedom. Of course, Mr. Franzen doesn?t want us to sympathize with his characters. He lays their self-imposed yuppie hell bare for our dispassionate dissection. Still 900 pages detailing characters we?re not supposed to like is a little much.
Despite his intricate prose, many of the plot points clanked a little on my sensitivities (the teenage boy moving in with the neighbor girl, the college kid landing a defense contract, the side trip to Patagonia, the famous punk rocker from the University of Minnesota, the environmentalist defending mountain-top removal). That and the overall dour tone were a little disappointing. Mr. Franzen came so well acclaimed as a social satirist that the almost complete and utter lack of humor was pretty surprising.
The ending, when it finally comes, is terrific. It?s almost a Buddhist-like revelation. The characters have hit rock bottom and find redemption in each other?s severely taxed love. The final climatic scene is fitting, as Patty must give up everything in order to ?come in from the cold.? I?m just afraid, in my case, it was a little too little, a little too late.
Jan 2, 2011
Great characters, compelling story
I loved 'The Corrections' and this book might be even better. The characters were fascinating and well-developed. One theme of this book may be "well-intentioned people sure can make a mess of things." This is a good book for book clubs; there is a lot to discuss about parents and children and husbands and wives.
Publishers Weekly, 2010-07-05 Nine years after winning the National Book Award, Franzen's The Corrections consistently appears on "Best of the Decade" lists and continues to enjoy a popularity that borders on the epochal, so much so that 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. Readers will recognize the strains of suburban tragedy afflicting St. Paul, Minn.'s Walter and Patty Berglund, once-gleaming gentrifiers now marred in the eyes of the community by Patty's increasingly erratic war on the right-wing neighbors with whom her eerily independent and sexually precocious teenage son, Joey, is besot, and, later, "greener than Greenpeace" Walter's well-publicized dealings with the coal industry's efforts to demolish a West Virginia mountaintop. The surprise is that the Berglunds' fall is outlined almost entirely in the novel's first 30 pages, freeing Franzen to delve into Patty's affluent East Coast girlhood, her sexual assault at the hands of a well-connected senior, doomed career as a college basketball star, and the long-running love triangle between Patty, Walter, and Walter's best friend, the budding rock star Richard Katz. By 2004, these combustible elements give rise to a host of modern predicaments: Richard, after a brief peak, is now washed up, living in Jersey City, laboring as a deck builder for Tribeca yuppies, and still eyeing Patty. The ever-scheming Joey gets in over his head with psychotically dedicated high school sweetheart and as a sub-subcontractor in the re-building of postinvasion Iraq. Walter's many moral compromises, which have grown to include shady dealings with Bush-Cheney cronies (not to mention the carnal intentions of his assistant, Lalitha), are taxing him to the breaking point. Patty, meanwhile, has descended into a morass of depression and self-loathing, and is considering breast augmentation when not working on her therapist-recommended autobiography. Franzen pits his excavation of the cracks in the nuclear family's facade against a backdrop of all-American faults and fissures, but where the book stands apart is that, no longer content merely to record the breakdown, Franzen tries to account for his often stridently unlikable characters and find where they (and we) went wrong, arriving at-incredibly-genuine hope. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly, 2010-09-27 When Patty and Walter Berglund's teenage son moves in with their conservative neighbors and their perfect life in St. Paul begins to unravel, out spill family secrets-clandestine loves, lies, compromises, failures. David Ledoux's masterly narration is powerful and well paced, comic and poignant. He expertly captures Walter and Patty-with her anxious whinny of a laugh-and their family life with its satisfactions and histrionics. Ledoux also deftly renders the gossiping of the Berglund's disingenuous neighbors; the frenetic rants of the drug-addled Eliza; and the weary, disaffected drawl of sleazy musician Richard. A Farrar, Straus, and Giroux hardcover (Reviews, July 5). (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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