Free at last

28 07 2012

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This is the story of the Berglunds, their son Joey, their daughter Jessica and their friend Richard Katz. It is about how we use and abuse our freedom; about the beginning and ending of love; teenage lust; the unexpectedness of adult life; why we compete with our friends; how we betray those closest to us; and why things almost never work out as they ‘should’. It is a story about the human heart, and what it leads us to do to ourselves and each other.

It sounds like a pitch for a great American novel and this is clearly the aim. Unfortunately, things don’t quite work out that way.  Nicholas Lezard’s review in the Guardian notes:

But what this novel really wants to be is War and Peace (there are numerous references). It would, however, settle for being Middlemarch, especially in the way that its characters tend, with some wiggle room, not to escape the labels they have been given. Cranky eco-nut, cool alt-rock guy, vile corrupt polluting Cheney crony, Republican whizz-kid with shiny loafers, and so on. And indeed, as in all novels queuing up for Great American Novel status, you do get the sensation of reading a 600-page shopping list. Fight between principles and realpolitik? Check. Cross-generational strife? Check. Fighting over wills? Check. Redneck vs city slicker? Check. Infidelity? Check. Goodness, there’s even a spot of anal sex. Is the very genre conservative? Franzen is a Democrat, duh, but there are more than a couple of unironic suggestions that what Patty needs is a job; and also, not to put too fine a point on it, a good seeing-to; when she does get one it really perks her up.

He likes it though, despite all of these failings. To me though it just felt empty and at times rather dull. It is very well written but ultimately pretty disappointing. I was glad to be free of it after 570 pages.

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