October 01, 2010


Rohan Maitzen

I haven't read it yet myself but I'm starting to get interested because it does seem to be engaging a lot of bloggers I respect--I did a bit of a round-up of their observations over at Novel Readings.


I'm dead middle in the book right now and find it to be more compelling than the Corrections with a frenzy of character development that causes me to constantly want to warn them not to go any further into their downward spiral while concurrently joyously following along in the collapse. I don't disagree with your commentary about "yuppie entitlement" but what he captures here (quite well I think) is the bundle of conflicting impulses that we inherit from our past and makes us what we are standing in direct contrast to that entitlement and how the two make bedfellows with a tendency toward disintegration -- you can wear the face but over time the true colors will show through. I agree you should read the book. Don't get me wrong, I'll take Lipsyte or Shteyngart over Franzen any day, but he deserves his due for what he's created here.


Read 85 pages, same reaction as TEV, and picked up Stoner by John Williams. Best decision I've made..


At lunch in Chinatown the other day, my fortune cookie message read "Your home will be a great source of happiness." In small letters, I wrote on the back "unless you live in a Franzen novel" and left it in the middle of my Seattle Public Library copy of FREEDOM. I like to think that stumbling on this will bring someone more pleasure than the novel, just as planting it did for me.


For what it's worth, I found Freedom to be harder to get into than The Corrections, but more satisfying by the end.


I have not read the novel yet, but it seems to me that Franzen is taking the novel back to where it was in the late 50s, early 60s. Not a bad thing, but interesting. His work seems to fit into the mold of novels like "By Love Possessed" and "Revolutionary Road". I guess Americans can still be surprised by the fact that their lives can disintegrate, and all their great dreams come to nothing. I certainly am.


Almost through, I have found the writing both energizing and tiring, especially now, near the end, where after the long slog of frenetic language, the gritty eros, the even dirtier things he does with excrement (a similar scene appeared in "The Corrections"), you have to wonder if he not just winging the whole thing, letting whatever comes into his mind go down on paper, and yet there is obviously some thought, a great deal at times, put into this novel: the Joey section dealing with his job to sell truck parts comes to mind, and there are others relating to Patty's basketball, Walter's environmental crusades, all filled with detail about mining, the warbler, and then there's the politics of the time, all these things dropped along the way, like some Johnny Appleseed of contemporary culture.


I don't agree with the assessment B.R. Myers makes of the characters in 'Freedom'. They are certainly not nonentities. For instance, Franzen uses a large chunk of the book to demonstrate that Walter's most salient quality is, despite the initial impression one has of him,not his niceness, that there are a host of other traits-his capacity for anger, his competitiveness, his lack of social skills-that make Walter a flawed and unique individual.In fact, the protagonists are arguably painted to be among the most 'successful' and 'free' people on the planet: intelligent,hardworking and well-to-do citizens of the world's wealthiest democracy. That they are also confused, prone to bad decisions and often miserable is the point that Franzen is trying to make-even the most fortunate and gifted, even those with endless potential and opportunity, do not have absolute 'freedom', especially when it comes to love, sex and all the emotional ties that bind. And what better way to explore these themes than through the story of 'an unhappy family'?


I'm not the biggest Franzen fan, but I enjoyed Freedom (but not The Corrections). I've found some of the praise a bit over-the-top, but that BR Meyers review is one of the worst I've ever read. And not because of the conclusion he draws, but:

Characters can be "too stupid" to read about? Suburbia isn't worth writing about? Bad words are naughty?

Just terrible.


Hmmm. I read it. I thought it was brilliant. And i'm someone who liked only the first 150 pages of The Corrections before it bored and annoyed me. But this one.....maybe it's because i'm a contemporary of Franzen's age-wise, but it scared me how well he captured the way Patty's mind worked. The environmental commentary did nothing for me. But the human relationships--comic, yet honest--kept me reading through the end.

Mike D.

Sorry, but that O'Rourke essay is the worst thing on the Franzenfreude affair I've read. It barely stays on topic.


I love how it is obvious that Mr. Myers didn't read the book, yet feels comfortable lampooning it. Good Show, Old chap!


I'm relieved you have decided to pick it up and give it another go. As Tanenhaus writes, Franzen's opening is a caricature. Any judgement based on the first 50 pages therefore does not do it justice. Franzen's skill lies in the way he develops, in wave after consecutive wave of narration, ever tightening descriptions of character. For Myer to object to the novel partly because the characters are your average unhappy family, and thus insignificant, is extraordinary. Doesn't the gift of a talented novelist lie in the ability to reveal to us the world of endless interest to be found in the quotidian? To reflect back to us our own, apparently insignificant lives, and thereby infuse them with significance? Are we not ourselves the obvious subject for books about the human experience? Myers discounts any number of great novelists if he truly believes the ordinary person is not a worthy subject of fiction. I loved Freedom, more than The Corrections, and I have found myself thinking repeatedly about various aspects of it since putting it down. Walter's conflict, for example, between believing so fervently in population-control and yet desiring with equal passion to have another child with his new lover. The impossibility of hanging onto one's ideals - artistic, environmental, political - as the grit of real life gets in the way. I will look forward to hearing what you ultimately think of it, TEV, when you are finished, but even if your opinion of Franzen does not improve, good on you for persisting and reading the book before forming an opinion - like Torrence I believe Mr Myers may not have done Franzen the same service.


Like the title "Compare and contrast". As they mean the same thing the meaning could be that freedom should mean the same for everyone or everyone should be free in the same way.

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