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Freedomby Jonathan Franzen
Synopses & Reviews
From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a darkly comedic novel about family.
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 neighbor, 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, total 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 college best friend and rival — still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become a very different kind of neighbor, 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 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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Passionately imagined, psychologically exacting, and shrewdly satirical, Franzen's spiraling epic exposes the toxic ironies embedded in American middle-class life and reveals just how destructive our muddled notions of entitlement and freedom are and how obliviously we squander life and love." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Jonathan Franzen's galvanic new novel...showcases his impressive literary toolkit — every essential storytelling skill, plus plenty of bells and whistles — and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life....Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet — a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Freedom... [is] making a claim for shelf space among the kind of books that the big dogs used to write. The kind they called important. The kind they called greats." Esquire
"As in his National Book Award winner, The Corrections, Franzen reveals a penchant for smart, deceptively simple, and culturally astute writing. Highly recommended." Library Journal
From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections comes a darkly comedic novel about family. Franzen's intensely realized characters struggle to learn how to live in an ever-confusing world — one with the temptations and burdens of liberty, the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, and the heavy weight of empire.
About the Author
Jonathan Franzen is the author of The Corrections, winner of the 2001 National Book Award for fiction; the novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion; and two collections of essays, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by FSG. He lives in New York City.
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