Freedom – Jonathan Franzen


Chosen by Sophia

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen tells the story of the lives of the Berglund family, an upper-middle class family from Michigan. Walter is an environmental activist, his wife Patty is a stay at home mum. They have two children, Joey and Jessica. Patty narrates the majority of the book, sometimes in real time, other times via her memoir entitled Mistakes Were Made.

As a portrayal of modern American at the turn of the century, Freedom details a portion of the Berglund’s life where controversial decisions are made, where suburban life and middle age and teenage years all combine into a perfect storm of realism, humanism, tragedy and comedy. Franzen chucks in other big topics too, politics, liberty, rape culture, mental illness and of course freedom.

People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.

While the wacky characters and modern thematic considerations made the novel appealing, it was noted that the book is full of well-off white people, and men who describe women in less than respectful ways. Sure these kind of people exist, so if the book is intended to be a portrait of American at the turn of the century then yes it hits the mark. Despite the obviously yuck, we did all appreciate the full gambit of relevant themes and character types and how succinctly all their crazy lives flowed together. There is certainly an art in throwing together all of this content into a book that is nicely paced and easy to read.


Published 2010
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
536 pages

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