Thursday, April 19, 2012

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

In Freedom, Jonathan Franzen has given the reader the quintessential Boomer novel. The novel tells the story of Patty and Walter Berglund. It picks up their story in college as they meet and fall in love. The reader learns about their backgrounds and how each person’s experiences growing up in their specific families and their parental and sibling relationships made them the person they were as an adult. It then follows them over the next thirty or so years, through two children, several moves, and the cycles that make up a marriage.

What is it about? It would be more accurate to ask, what isn’t it about? Freedom is about love, envy, jealousy, betrayal, steadfastness. It is about the relationships between parents and children, between adult friends, the balance between work and home. It contrasts liberalism and conservatism, a focus on business vs. a focus on the environment, the value of old friendships vs. the power of letting new people into one’s life. It is about how we wound each other and how we can heal these wounds. It talks of the dilemma of raising strong independent children who then as adults have little need for their parents. It talks of the difficulty of keeping love strong for decades, and how old hurts can rear up time and time again, sometimes destroying the love that still endures beneath the surface.

Franzen is one of the country’s strongest novelists, and this book enforces that accolade. The writing is dense and detailed, as one would need to reveal someone else’s entire life, motivations and joys. The reader is unable to tear themselves away from this story of two people whose lives and struggles exemplify an entire generation. Franzen shows that no matter how much each generation hopes to be different from the one before it, members come to realize that human nature is fairly fixed, and the same big forces control all of our lives, no matter when we lived. This book is a masterpiece, and the reader will close the last page, satisfied, hopeful and feeling more accepting of their own struggles. This book is recommended for all readers interested in human nature and how we live our lives among other people.

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