Friday, April 15, 2011

Guest Blog: On "Freedom"

My friend Mary wrote me the following comments about the long novel "Freedom," which I struggled with some time ago (see my posts of 11/8/10, 11/11/10, and 11/13/10); I am happy to publish her thoughtful response as a guest blog entry.

Mary's comments:

As I read your recent posts about the subject of marriage in novels, I thought about Jonathan Franzen's book "Freedom." The marriage of Walter and Patty, two of the main characters, looked far different from the outside than the inside. Interestingly, as their seemingly happy marriage began to unravel, their mutual friend Katz (although himself part of their trouble) felt disoriented by the loss of what had felt like his home base.

I've been curious about this book since I read a practically worshipful review of it in the New York Times and then your own rather negative one. My reaction was in between, but closer to yours. I too found myself having to push through parts of it. It was part zingy satire, part saga, part family history, part current events -- with way too much stuffed in between. I found the descriptions of such things as the coal mining scheme and the endangered birds particularly tedious. It took me a long time to care much about the characters. They seemed to be intentionally "types," used for the purposes of satire, so it was hard to really feel for them. If I am going to have to live with characters for as long as this long book required, I'd like to feel a little more connected to them.

Toward the end of the book I began to like it more. Those last pages had the momentum that I didn't feel earlier in the book, and the writing itself just seemed better. There were parts where I found myself nodding at certain dead-on observations, beautifully phrased. It felt like finally genuine feeling had broken through the thick air of smirky satire that permeated most of the book. It just took too long to get there.

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