Synopses & Reviews
A compulsively readable, deeply human novel that examines our most basic and unquenchable emotion: want. With his critically acclaimed first novel, Jonathan Miles was widely praised as a comic genius “after something bigger” (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
) whose fiction was “not just philosophically but emotionally rewarding” (Richard Russo, New York Times Book Review
, front cover).
Now, in his much anticipated second novel, Want Not, Miles takes a giant leap forward with this highly inventive and corrosively funny story of our times, a three-pronged tale of human excess that sifts through the detritus of several disparate lives—lost loves, blown chances, countless words and deeds misdirected or misunderstood—all conjoined in their come-hell-or-high-water search for fulfillment.
As the novel opens on Thanksgiving Day, readers are telescoped into three different worlds in various states of disrepair—a young freegan couple living off the grid in New York City; a once-prominent linguist, sacked at midlife by the dissolution of his marriage and his fathers losing battle with Alzheimers; and a self-made debt-collecting magnate, whose brute talent for squeezing money out of unlikely places has yielded him a royal existence, trophy wife included.
Want and desire propel these characters forward toward something, anything, more, until their worlds collide, briefly, randomly, yet irrevocably, in a shattering ending that will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.
With a satirists eye and a romantics heart, Miles captures the morass and comedy of contemporary life in all its excess. Bold, unblinking, unforgettable in its irony and pathos, Want Not is a wicked, bighearted literary novel that confirms the arrival of a major voice in American fiction.
"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
Praise for Freedom“Jonathan Franzens new novel, Freedom, like his previous one, The Corrections, is a masterpiece of American fiction . . . Freedom is a still richer and deeper work—less glittering on its surface but more confident in its method . . . Like all great novels, Freedom does not just tell an engrossing story. It illuminates, through the steady radiance of its authors profound moral intelligence, the world we thought we knew.”—Sam Tanenhaus, The New York Times Book Review (cover review) “Writing in prose that is at once visceral and lapidary, Mr. Franzen shows us how his characters strive to navigate a world of technological gadgetry and ever-shifting mores, how they struggle to balance the equation between their expectations of life and dull reality, their political ideals and mercenary personal urges. He proves himself as adept at adolescent comedy as he is at grown-up tragedy; as skilled at holding a mirror to the world his people inhabit day by dreary day as he is at limning their messy inner lives . . . 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] a work of total genius: a reminder both of why everyone got so excited about Franzen in the first place and of the undeniable magic—even today, in our digital end-times—of the old-timey literary novel . . . Few modern novelists rival Franzen in that primal skill of creating life, of tricking us into believing that a text-generated set of neural patterns, a purely abstract mind-event, is in fact a tangible human being that we can love, pity, hate, admire, and possibly even run into someday at the grocery store. His characters are so densely rendered—their mental lives sketched right down to the smallest cognitive micrograins—that they manage to bust through the art-reality threshold: They hit us in the same place that our friends and neighbors and classmates and lovers do. This is what makes Franzens books such special event.” —Sam Anderson, New York Magazine
“The Great American Novel.” —Esquire
“Epic.” —Vanity Fair
“Exhilarating . . . Gripping . . . Moving . . . On a level with The Great Gatsby [and] Gone With the Wind.” —Craig Seligman, Bloomberg
“A page turner that engages the mind.” —Dan Cryer, Newsday
“Consuming and extraordinarily moving.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Its refreshing to see a novelist who wants to engage the questions of our time in the tradition of 20th-century greats like John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis . . . [This] is a book youll still be thinking about long after youve finished reading it.” —Patrick Condon, Associated Press
“Deeply moving and superbly crafted . . . Its such a full novel, rich in description, broad in its reach and full of wry observations.” —Bob Hoover, Pittsburg Post-Gazette
“Freedom, his new book, and The Corrections, its predecessor, are at the same time engrossing sagas and scathing satires, and both books are funny, sad, cranky, revelatory, hugely ambitious, deeply human and, at times, truly disturbing. Together, they provide a striking and quite possibly enduring portrait of America in the years on either side of the turn of the 21st century . . . His writing is so gorgeous . . . Franzen is one of those exceptional writers whose works define an era and a generation, and his books demand to be read.” —Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A tour de force . . . one of the finest novelists of his generation.” — Glenn C. Altschuler, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Freedom is a bracingly earnest, ethically serious psychological epic that introduces and exploits its characters mistakes and foibles, then challenges itself to discover myriad ways to eventually forgive them their trespasses . . . A highly readable triumph of conventional realism . . . Addictive.” —Akiva Gottlieb, The National
“A lavishly entertaining account of a family at war with itself, and a brilliant dissection of the dissatisfactions and disappointments of contemporary American life . . . Compelling . . . Freedom, though frequently funny, is ultimately tender: its emotional currency is both the pain and the pleasure that that word implies . . . A rare pleasure, an irresistible invitation to binge-read . . . That it also grapples with a fundamental dilemma of modern middle-class America—namely: Is it really still OK to spend your life asserting your unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, when the rest of the world is in such a state?—is what makes it something wonderful. If Freedom doesnt qualify as a Great American Novel for our time, then I dont know what would . . . The reason to celebrate him is not that he is doing something new but that he is doing something old, presumed dead—and doing it brilliantly. Freedom bids for a place alongside the great achievements of his predecessors, not his contemporaries; it belongs on the same shelf as John Updikes Rabbit, Tom Wolfes The Bonfire of the Vanities, Philip Roths American Pastoral. It is the first Great American Novel of the post-Obama era.” —Benjamin Secher, Telegraph (U. K.)
“A literary genius for our time . . . An extraordinary work . . . This is simply on a different plane from other contemporary fiction . . . A novel of our time . . . Demands comparison rather with Saul Bellows Herzog. . . a modern classic . . . Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century.” —Jonathan Jones, Guardian (U.K.)
“A triumph . . . A pleasure to read.” —Michael H. Miller, The New York Observer
“Brilliant . . . Epic . . . An extraordinary stylist.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“A surprisingly moving and even hopeful epic.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR
"I loved this book…Jonathan Miles can write, and here hes written a wonderful book, and theres no one I would not urge to read it….This is the work of a fluid, confident and profoundly talented writer who gets more fluid, more confident and seemingly more talented even within the book itself. As it progresses, ‘Want Not so assuredly accumulates power and profundity and momentum that I read the last 200 pages without pause." - Dave Eggers, New York Times Book Review
"[a] shrewd, funny, and sometimes devastating new novel….What WANT NOT does best, though, isn't plotting but portraits of humanity: the small epiphanies and private hurts of every person whose life, like the detritus they produce, is as beautifully mundane and unique as a fingerprint. A-" - Entertainment Weekly
"Panoramic...For readers who relish extravagant language, scathing wit and philosophical heft, Want Not wastes nothing." - Kirkus, STARRED "With forthright wit and stunning intimacy, Miles doesnt hesitate to broach the uncomfortable consequences of unchecked abundance and desire. The result is a wild tangle of high-octane, entertaining prose, an astonishing leap for this accomplished novelist." - Booklist "Before you gird your loins and stuff your birds for Thanksgiving, spend some highly rewarding hours with all the trash and waste in Jonathan Miless new novel, WANT NOT." - Bloomberg
"outrageously funny" - Ron Charles, WashingtonPost.com
"Whether youre a chronic hoarder or a censorious neatnik, make room on the shelf for this terrific new book from Jonathan Miles called “Want Not.” Best known for his first comic novel, “Dear American Airlines,” Miles is back with a complex, often hilarious, ultimately moving story about who we are and what we discard — subjects that have always been more intimately linked than we care to admit. “Want Not” is — someones got to say it — the best trashy novel of the year....Even as “Want Not” paws through the bones of pre¬history, the wasteland of our modern economy and the ashes of the future, Miless elegant and thoughtful voice suggests that all is not lost. The novel may begin with prickly satire, it may dig deep into Americas disposable lifestyle, but it ultimately pivots to scenes of surprising tenderness. Despite our extravagant waste, despite our carelessness with each other, despite that temptation to despair that everything is flotsam and jetsam, Miles offers a heartfelt affirmation of human value. Thats what makes this a novel to hoard." - Washington Post "What is extremely apparent...is Jonathan Miles extraordinary talent. Where so many writers are impressionists, Miles is more of a photo realist....Miles presents such fully developed characters, you come to know their essences." - New Jersey Star Ledger
"When prompted to offer up a pithy description of life on Planet Earth for future generations, one might be tempted to filch a line from a character in Jonathan Miles'second novel: 'We came, we saw, we trashed.' With a title like WANT NOT you'd think its author, if not the book's characters, might agree. But what makes Miles' new book (after the much lauded DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES so luminous and so resonant is what it asks instead: Or did we?" - The Oregonian "WANT NOT, the sophomore effort of Jonathan Miles, author of the much-praised comic rant of a novel DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, does not disappoint. WANT NOT leaps nimbly from topic to topic, each sentence providing a miniature window into its author's energetic and wide-ranging mind: from freeganism to conspicuous consumption; from Manhattan's Alphabet City to residential New Jersey to the backwoods of Tennessee; and from neighbors with nothing but geographical location in common to sisters who share nothing but blood….Sitting down with WANT NOT is like finding yourself opposite the most interesting person at a dinner party. It pulls you in immediately; makes you shake your head in wonder and delight at your new companion's wit, originality, and compelling turns of phrase; and, best of all, surprises you into laughter." - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"rapturous prose [and] the blend of ideas and characters...result in a novel thats sharp and occasionally breathtaking." - Time Out New York
"With a large set of people to get to know in the novel, and all of them compelling, Jonathan Miles delivers his second novel WANT NOT with a great big smile. Funnier than ever the author, acclaimed for his DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, loves to go off on a tangent and wander along with just his prose as a tiny flashlight in the woods. - Edge Media
"This is a novel with a strong point of view, but its far from a polemic. Miles is as funny as he is observant, and he allows us to laugh at ourselves as he forces us to look at some of the more unattractive aspects of humanity. This is a hard novel to pitch in a few sentences, but its an easy one to recommend. Simply put, its one of the best of the year." - BookRiot
"With a light Midas touch, Miles turns all the glut and ache of late America into pure gold. If you're in that soul-hunt up the food chain and down the dial for something more satisfying than the hollow abundance of our contemporary lives, read this book. It is warm, complex, comic, honest, and never flinching. Want Not wastes not a word, while its pleasures are endless." - Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed and Then We Came to the End "In this powerful, blisteringly funny novel, Jonathan Miles makes a startling discovery: We are what we throw away. It's in our castoff goods, edibles, chances and people that our authentic selves are revealed; or, as one of his many memorable characters puts it, 'garbage [is] the only truthful thing civilization produced.' Miles mines the depths of waste so artfully that by the end of this extraordinary novel, we're left with the suspicion that redemption may well be no more, and no less, than an existential salvage operation." - Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynns Long Halftime Walk and Brief Encounters with Che Guevara "Want Not, Jonathan Miles brilliant and original take on a culture-ours-that mindlessly seems to squander all that is dear, is as witty as it is mind-blowing and eye-opening. The combination of high-octane prose and Miles' compassion for his characters make for a novel that stirs the collective conscience. A clear-eyed, exuberant entertainment." - Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life and A Day at the Beach
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.
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.
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 Walters 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—outré rocker and Walters 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 streets 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 Freedoms 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.
From the critically acclaimed author of Dear American Airlines, a compulsively readable, deeply human novel that charts the course of three intersecting lives—a freegan couple living off the grid in Manhattan, a once prominent linguist struggling with midlife, and a New Jersey debt-collection magnate with a new family and a second chance at getting things right—in a thoroughly contemporary examination of that most basic and unquenchable emotion: want.
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.