Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Someone whom I respect – I can’t remember who – recommended this novel.  I had started it before my hospital stay and it arrived along with a bag of magazines, puzzle books and a writing pad I had asked for.   After everything else was read, unpuzzled and written, I returned to the novel.

I hated it.  Hate is a strong word, I know, but the only reason I even got halfway through the thick, heavy hardcover is because of my environment. If there had been anything else to do except watch Cityline or stare out a window, I would have never continued reading it.   It’s that bad.  And keep in mind that we’re talking about an Oprah selection so it’s supposed to be the cream of the crop according to Queen O.

Freedom is supposedly about modern love and the trials and tribulations of a married couple and the husband’s best friend for whom the wife has always had a thing.  But it’s written like a set of vague lyrics that dance around what the writer is really trying to say. With little evidence presented, we’re supposed to suddenly just accept that loser, aging rocker Richard has become a famous influence on a new generation of musicians.   Everything in this story just happens inexplicably, out of the thinnest of notions.  Franzen also overwrites to an annoying degree.  A perfect example appears in a sentence describing a neighbourhood in which he says residents favour the “small and smallish lots….”.  Why not just small?  How is it better to present “small” as a concept with no context and then add “smallish” to the mix as well? 

Out of the blue the longtime, loyal husband, Walter, begins dedicating his life to preserving an endangered bird species and spends most of his time traveling with a young, exotic protege with whom he clearly wants to sleep.  How did this radical departure happen to a devoted spouse?  We are not told.  Well, maybe we’re told later but I wasn’t willing to suspend disbelief long enough to stick with it.

I tried to give my copy of the book to a nursing student who noticed I was reading it and was a fan of Franzen’s previous novel, The Corrections.  She wouldn’t take it.  So I left it behind with a note to her inside it saying, basically, that by not taking it off my hands she was making its purchase a waste of my money.  I asked her to do me the favour of please accepting and reading the book, which she obviously wanted to do.  I hope she does and I hope she enjoys it although I will never understand how or why.

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