#CBR4 Review 12: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

24 Mar

I saw Jonathan Franzen read one of the first chapters of Freedom at the Boston Public Library last year, and it was fantastic. Franzen has what is best described by my roommate as “an awkward charm,” and when you read the book, his distinct voice and persona come through in every word. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak or read, it’s worth it.

Freedom tells the story of the Berglund’s, a middle class family struggling to to figure out who they are, how their past has shaped them, and what they want their lives to look like. Each character makes a set of choices based on what they feel they should do, and the characters spend the book working through whether the choice they should have made is the choice they wanted to make.

Patty, a former college basketball star, went to college in Minnesota to escape her Westchester family and chose to become Walter’s wife, and a full time mother to their children.  Walter, raised by an alcoholic father in a family desperately trying to keep their run down motel afloat, initially abandons his radical left wing ideas to work as a lawyer, in a steady job, providing for his family.  Joey, their son, chooses to marry his long time girlfriend at the age of twenty, and engage in a variety of unsavory business dealings.

The characters feel real. Watching Patty come to terms with her feelings for a former crush, watching Walter escape his job to attempt to run a radical conservationist group, watching Joey pursue another woman while his wife waits patiently in Minnesota…everyone knows those feelings. The resolution to the character’s story arcs is satisfying; there’s no false happy ending or uninspired tragedy that solves everyone’s problems. The characters either accept their decision as correct, or try to change their lives to lift their depression. Like people would in real life.

Despite the well worn territory, there’s nothing cliche in Franzen’s novel. The political under currents can be overwhelming at times, but not enough to detract from the book’s relevance.  His style is engrossing, his analysis of the character’s motivations is in depth, and the reader is instantly made a part of the uncomfortably familiar world of the Berglunds.


3 Responses to “#CBR4 Review 12: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen”

  1. hsk100 April 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I read this as part of my university course and remember reading a review (or maybe a comment on the back of the book) that said that by the end of the novel, the reader would know the characters better than your own loved ones. You’re completely right! This book completely sucks you in in such an uncomfortable way.
    More people should read it!


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #12: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen « Cannonball Read IV - March 24, 2012

    […] For more… Share this:ShareTwitterFacebookEmailDiggStumbleUpon Posted by hellokatieo in Uncategorized […]

  2. Review #26: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach « Book It. - April 16, 2012

    […] I’ve read recently are starting to blend together, and feel a bit stale. The Marriage Plot, Freedom, A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Art of Fielding are all brilliant novels, each in their own […]

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