My Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I just sleepwalked through a week of my life—body on Earth, brain on Jonathan Franzen’s planet. Reading Freedom was an addiction literally disruptive to my days—I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I just had to finish reading.

It’s as if Franzen decided to rewrite Bret Easton Ellis’ Rules of Attraction and actually make it good. And, damn, is this good good good. Absorbing, involving and so true. In Freedom, life doesn’t make sense, and sometimes things just work out, and sometimes they just don’t.

Freedom is set in the suburbia and cityscapes of the American dream. The action is the prattling lives of three generations of the American middle class, and freedom is a repeated theme (as you’d expect). How stifling, terrifying and challenging freedom turns out to be for most of the characters.

I loved that every character is multi-dimensional, nobody is inherently good or bad—everyone is just different. I loved reading about situations from multiple characters’ perspectives, and seeing how some would just never understand each other. Brutally realistic. Amazing dialogue. 

No matter the issue Franzen tackles, be it environmentalism, feminism, marriage, interdependence, I always felt his underlying message was that everything only has the meaning that we attribute to it. No more, no less. Literally nothing has to mean literally anything.

I wonder if Franzen based the enigmatic charismatic depressive Richard Katz on himself. The way he writes the character it’s apparent even he (in addition to, undoubtedly, all of his readers) is in love with Katz.

Too many good quotes, the few I happened to underline:

It’s not so fun to be on a road trip with a driver who considers you, and perhaps all women, a pain in the ass.

There was a more general freedom that she could see was killing her but she was nonetheless unable to let go of.

He’d tried to pretend that he was doing the Berglunds a favor by ceasing communication with them, but mainly he just hadn’t wanted to hear that they were happy and securely married.

An accident… of forming an attachment at an impressionable age, before the contours of his personality were fully set. Walter had slipped into his life before he’d shut the door on the world of ordinary people and cast his lot with misfits and dropouts.

Warned him not to mistake the pain of losing her for an active desire to have her.

Joyce was not a whole person… [so] she needed to feel extraordinary. 

I can only weep that I have Franzen’s new work Purity still ahead of me—both for joy and for fear of the continued undoing this Franzen addiction will bring to my so-called real life.