About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

#43: Freedom

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010)

"Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul -- the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter -- environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man -- she was doing her small part to build a better world.

"But now, in the new millenium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenaged son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz -- outre rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival -- still doing in the picture? Most of all, what happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become 'a very different kind of neighbor,' an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?

"In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time."

Opening Line:
"The news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally -- he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now -- but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read The New York Times."

My Take:
Cautiously optimistic after the first 150 pages, though I was underwhelmed by The Corrections and often end up disappointed by any book that gets half the hype this one did when it came out last year.

OK, after the fact -- probably not one of my all-time favorites, but a solid book and, dare I say, worthy of at least most of the acclaim it received. Complex, interesting characters, PLUS had a lot to say about the world and culture of the US over the last 30 years or so. A bit too much back story on our principal characters, Walter and Patty, for my tastes, which made it drag a bit up front. Sure, I guess we needed to know something of their childhoods and adolescences to understand the people they'd become by the time the novel opens, but a little bit of this goes a long way. Also, given that we learned as much about the Berglunds' son Joey as we did about his parents (sure, he gets less screen time, but he is younger with less back story to reveal), and almost as much about Walter's best friend and Patty's one-that-got-away Richard, the absence of any real detail about their daughter Jessica seems conspicuous. Fairly minor quibbles, though -- still a good read.

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