Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)


L: 5/10

M: 3/10

Analysis from a washed away coastline, at the bottom of the ocean.

I had high levels of excitement heading into our second book from Mr. Franzen. These levels were teased at times and almost reached, but the hefty page count just didn’t quite live up to the expectations. Apart from the outside narrations from neighbors that bookend the story, three members of the Berglund family (and one honorary member) take turns detailing the family’s evolution. Things aren’t perfect when the story picks up, and things idle in depressing tones, with husband and wife, Patty and Walter, struggling to find reasons to keep the family cohesive.

Through the wishes of a therapist, Patty records her college years that lead her to Walter and weave through past friends, including fellow narrator Richard Katz. This biography serves as a later plot point to catch all parties up on important details and further press the strain on what’s left of the family. The pages narrated by Katz were most memorable for me, as they took time away from the bleakness of the Berglund family (for the most part), and actually felt something close to a story that was progressing. His life stumbles into success and then stumbles, trying to live with getting the one thing you set out to achieve. A messy love triangle finally plays out, and the family is separated even further for multiple years. Each member finds their own happiness alone, but their stories end up tied together once again, and the greater story isn’t left with much, but years gone by.

The pages spent with the younger son, Joey, were the hardest to digest as I found the character highly unlikable. Going against his parent’s every wishes and still turning out just fine, even a millionaire by the book’s end didn’t blend with the rest of Freedom. None of his actions carried any weight, while the rest of the family were anchored continuously down by their burden. Some time with the daughter, Jessica, could have been used to show a normal perspective from slightly outside and frame things up a little better.

The time spent in Freedom with Walter and Patty were frustratingly dull at times, really making it a task to keep turning the pages. So many pages felt like wasted time, bleeding dry every angle of two people just not meant to be. The strange part for me is that I enjoy bleak; I like idling depression and shallow outcomes. The way the book unfolded was just a little too anticlimactic, I guess. I’m unsure what this book was missing that would have made it more enjoyable. I’ll have to look into more of Franzen’s work to find out. That speaks for the author when I could be so ho-hum on something and immediately want more.

Analysis from a watered-down fountain drink that just sits on your nightstand for days:

Why ya gotta do me like that, John? I was so excited about this book because one of my favorites that we’ve read came from the mind of Mr. Franzen, but this read just was not up to par with Purity.

I tried to like the book, and there were pages where I was on board, and then I would get lost in nonsensical droning on and on and have to force myself to keep on truckin’ through it. This book took us far too long to read simply because coming back to it was less returning to an old friend and more having to hear about your co-worker’s ongoing back problems. You have to do it to get to the end or to make it from your desk to the bathroom, but you would rather just not.

I did not connect or truly care about one single character in this book. I love a good villain, can get on board with a champion of some cause or the sweet young girl who would sacrifice it all for the obsessive love she feels for someone. This book had all of these and more, and yet I could fucking care less. The development of characters left you uninterested. I want to love or hate a character. Indifference is the death of a book for me, and that’s exactly how I felt. I didn’t care how it all ended. I just wanted it to end.

Now I’m not finished with you yet, Jonathan Franzen! I found Purity to be profound and beautiful, and I believe that is what you bring to the table. We all have off days. I’m still a fan!


Jonathan Franzen

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