I’m not going to open this review of Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Freedom, with a few hokey lines, overwrought with cliches about what freedom represents to so many people, and then saying that it now means something entirely different to the literate world. Enough has been said of the work already by so many reputable sources, that if one were to follow the latest in literature, he would already know that it is recognized as a true feat of writing. What I will do, however, is examine whether or not it deserves such honor and praise.
The novel traces the life stories of Walter and Patty Berglund, as well as those of their close family and friends, over multiple generations. Its narrative is very erratic; it never sticks to just one format through which to tell its tales.
Basically, Walter and Patty met in college. Patty falls in love with rocker Richard Kats, Walter’s roommate and bestfriend, but it’s Walter who has eyes for Patty. This love triangle ends up playing out in a very entertaining fashion over the entire course of the book.
Despite what feelings Patty may continue to harbor for Richard, she finally marries Walter and has two kids with him, Jessica and Joey. Folly ensues as Patty tries too hard to make Joey all hers after Walter proves utterly inept at raising his own son, and as Joey grows up to potentially become the most independent child in America.
When Joey moves into his girlfriend’s house next door at the age of 16, Walter and Patty are permanently distraught. From that moment on, their lives lose significant meaning, and havoc lurks beside them at every corner.
Franzen makes the wise decision to show us what Walter and Patty’s childhoods were like, allowing us an unexpectedly marvelous and in-depth look into the lives of two troubled adults. The reader is able to see the paths they took and the decisions they made to get themselves to where they are. By revealing their pasts, Franzen strongly builds his characters.
But the inclusion of a plethora of details does not merely stop at Walter and Patty; Franzen develops all supporting and minor characters, especially Katz, so adeptly that one could only assume he knows every detail he would ever need to know about each character. And no, even with all its detail,Freedom does not read like a textbook — quite the opposite, in fact, as details come in anecdotes about the characters, and the anecdotes always keep you reading more.
I give it five stars. It is simply a fantastic read because it is both well-written and its characters are drawn out.
And even though it came out close to six months ago, its non-linear narrative and storylines fractured purposefully to allow the reader a better look into its characters’ heads before allowing the plot to push forward, makes it quite distinct from any other new releases on the market today.
Whenever Franzen’s career as an author comes to a close, it is without a doubt that Freedom that will be most widely regarded as his magnum opus. It must be checked out.