Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When it comes to Freedom (by Jonathan Franzen, in case you were wondering), there’s almost certainly no need for me to sprinkle my few additional drops of commentary into the raging river of discussion that's already flowed across the internet. But I really, truly like Freedom a lot and feel obligated to add my tiny voice of support (could it be love???) for the book in the face of what seems to be some kind of Franzen-backlash.
Part of me would love to join in the backlash. The man writes so exceptionally well, with such precision, such insight, that it’s hard to be anything but jealous. Opening this book is like turning on the faucet: it just flows, smooth and clear and steady until you choose to turn it off. It’s a big book that flies by; every page features at least one beautiful, sharp description or wonderful turn of phrase, or surprisingly hilarious (usually coal-black) observation about people. That it’s also generally a depressing work makes its pleasurable readability all the more remarkable.
It also synthesizes in just the right ways that I like novels to synthesize: it has Big Points to make, but is also funny and accessible; its scope is wide but has a simple, human core; it makes the small into something grand, and elegantly vice versa.
To be sure, there were some sections that I liked more than others, a few moments of expositional slog (that took place in the middle of the book, oddly), and a few clunky moments that teetered just on the edge of preachiness. But those moments were few and far between: I mention them only because I refuse to give the impression that any book is perfect.
I was also impressed that, with 500+ pages of windup, the conclusion could manage to live up to all that had come before. I was more than pleased that the book ends in an elegant, restrained, yet emotionally satisfying way. I MIGHT have pulled up my hood on the train this morning to hide the few tender tears I shed into my scarf.
My one remaining qualm is that I need to talk to a lady ASAP about Freedom. I’d argue that the sections written by the main female character, Patty Berglund, were far and away the most compelling, visceral, beautifully written parts of the whole book. They also felt the most authentic to me (admittedly a man). So I’m desperate now to push this book on my wife, that she might validate or invalidate my feelings (as the case may be) about the truth (or lack thereof) of Franzen's female perspective. Really, though, I’d push this book on anyone. I loved it.
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