Saturday, November 5, 2011

(Partial) Freedom - Jonathan Franzen - Unfinished Business

I read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom only partially and gave up (for now). So this post is not per se about the book but rather about my disappointment in it and Franzen an author whose works I have greatly liked. The book came out last year about a decade after Franzen's 'The Corrections' which got great acclaim and rightly so. Had been waiting for it's paper back for some time now. If the 'The Corrections'  was a about events in a dysfunctional family falling headlong into the abyss, 'Freedom' seems to take a look at the reasons for why families splinter. 

The book starts promisingly enough in the prologue, where we are introduced to the Berglund's, Walter and Patti, their son Joey  and daughter Jessica and the way the family disintegrates due to mainly Joey's actions. Then in a look at events of the past Franzen tries to unravel why things came to this point. It's starts with a form of auto biography written by Patti. 

Franzen has long been a critic of so called 'Hard To Read Books' ( and has said that books need to be entertaining too. I agree with him partially on the count that books that are entertaining and easy (both of which are anyway subjective matters) can also be profound.  Franzen too has been a proponent of the 'old school' writing, solid plots, well defined characters et all. And therein lies the problem for me with Freedom. For me, in such books, the best ones are where the characters are morally a bit ambiguous, where as a reader I am not able to form a precise opinion about them, where there is always a feeling in me, 'hey, there seems to be more to this character than I get it'. Sadly, nothing of the sort happened in whatever I read of Freedom.

I had a sense of Deja vu in some places, particularly when Patti is torn between 2 men, one a rock/punk musician with all the habits attributes to them (licentious sex, booze, drugs etc) and the other a squeaky clean, well behaved man (Walter). And guess what, she is attracted to the rock star, but ends up marrying the well rounded Walter.  And the part where Patti's parents look the other way when a bad thing happens to her, to consolidate their political ambitions. How original are these!!! Where is the soaring imagination in the layers of characters in 'The Corrections'. Patti too came across only as a uni-dimensional dimwit moron, albeit with some cunning. 

Now, the parts about Walter and the other remaining parts could well be better and my initial impressions on Walter could very well be wrong (there are some subtle hints on it in the portion I read) but I had had enough by then. It's actually not terrible as it may sound when you read this post, but the main thing was that I got indifferent about the novel at around the 40th or 50th page and sleepwalked through another 100 pages, almost as if I was beholden to complete it. Then I gave up as it was taking me no where and also because the best way to read a book is because you want to and not because you want to tick a book off on the list of books to be read. I think I would come back to this book later and it may actually turn out to be better (but I am sure not in the league of 'The Corrections'). But for now, my suggestion for anyone looking to get into Franzen would be to read 'The Corrections' first. If you have already read it, well re-read it again at least in parts. I did that and dipped into some parts of it to sort of get the feeling of Freedom out of me and I did enjoy once again. It's been about 6-7 years since I first read it and shows that it's not aged at all, which I suppose I would not be able to say about 'Freedom', even if I complete it.

The prologue in 'Freedom' can be read at

Read this. It sure is good.

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