Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Why bother reviewing books that have already become widely & critically acclaimed? Because there’s a generation of readers, my age & younger, who may not have heard of it.  A generation that really cares about reading. Also because everybody has their own opinion. While a whole faculty insists I should love Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or masses of readers everywhere ask me how I could not love A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, I persist & continue to dislike them both pretty strongly. Also because there’s always complaints or at least reservations with any excellent book. It’s characters are too white & privileged. It’s author’s presence comes through a little too much at times. All valid points, but let’s just say this book is what it is: fucking good. It’s what most readers could only dream of writing. The actual sentence by sentence structure is so spotless. But I also review it because I can. Because I review basically everything I read.

This was my first time reading Jonathan Franzen, expectations were met & surpassed. I loved this book. The characters were in depth & realistic, self absorbed, & sometimes jerks, but still oddly likable. The political views were obviously there, but pretty well balanced for an author who definitely has his own opinionated political viewpoint. The story, which is normally nonexistent in books that hold the previous two features, actually made you care & was paced to perfection. The length was perfect, not too long, not too short. You get closure. You feel fully satisfied, but you still want to go back & read it again. It’s quotable, but the quotes don’t do the full story justice. It was one of the best things I’ve read all year, & definitely one of the best novels published more recently.

It never felt preachy to me, it just felt real. Every time a character drifted into a rant of extreme emotion, whether it be political or familial or whatever, I kept thinking, I know someone just like this.

You get four points of view: Patty, her son Joey, her husband Walter, & his best friend Richard. However, each character is probably best described when seen through another character’s eyes. It seems to really start with Patty’s time in college & move up until the time she reaches past middle age. Along the way we’re painted views of her childhood, of Walter’s family history, we see Joey grow up, & see the affects of friendship part ways & come back again. But the real story is between Walter & Patty.

The other day I found myself near the self-help section of a bookstore I like to go to. I scanned titles, How to Live or How to Love. Early on in this book two side characters remark on Patty & Walter that they just haven’t figured out how to live yet. This book is probably best described as an introspection on how they learn to do that.

Hailed as the Great American Novel, its theme is obviously freedom, but also competition. The Great American Qualities. Does freedom necessarily constitute happiness? Where does social responsibility begin & end? What forms does competitiveness take every day? & Patty’s favorite, what does it mean to be a “good” person?

I definitely recommend this book to anybody who hasn’t read Franzen yet. I feel like it was a good place to start with him. I definitely plan on reading The Corrections next.

I think most people love Richard Katz’s interview & it’s probably one of my favorite parts of the book.

“It’s great that a song now costs exactly the same as a pack of gum and lasts exactly the same amount of time before it loses its flavor and you have to spend another buck. That era which finally ended whenever, yesterday – you know, that era when we pretended rock was the scourge of conformity and consumerism, instead of its anointed handmaid – that era was really irritating to me. I think it’s good for the honesty of rock and roll and good for the country in general that we can finally see Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop for what they really were: as manufacturers of wintergreen Chiclets….

Do you think George Bush actually hates gay people? Do you think he personally gives a shit about abortion? Do you think Dick Cheney really believes Saddam Hussein engineered 9/11? Sheryl Crow is a chewing-gum manufacturer, and I say that as a longtime chewing-gum manufacturer myself. The person who cares what Sheryl Crow thinks about the war in Iraq is the same person who’s going to buy an obscenely overpriced MP3 player because Bono Vox is shilling for it.”

There’s also this popular favorite:

“People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.”

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