Jonathan Franzen – Freedom



After reading this book I reflected about it for a good 45 minutes. I mean this novel will stick with me for a long time but it is a multi layered piece of work that is difficult to describe due to it’s complex threadlines.

The Plot

The book is about a family disintegrating after 9/11. The family in question are the Berglunds. The father, Walter is a lawyer turned environmentalist, the mother, Patty, a high school jock and all around nice person, Joey, the slightly wayward son and Jessica the good daughter. All live together in a calm suburb.

However 9/11 happens and it seems that all the shiny outwear is rubbed down to reveal a nasty core of deceit, treachery, bust ups and screw ups. All the Berglunds experience change and it is up to them to cope – be it resolving a high school crush, preserving The Cerulean Warbler or conducting a shady business deal. The situations the Berglunds are placed in are dilemmas which change their destinies.

If I do look into it deeper I guess The Berglunds are a representation of post 9/11 America: a strong country affected by a blow which causes it to fall apart and attempt to pull it back together the best it can? or is it a country that already had problems which finally surfaced due to a shake up? who knows?

The topic of Freedom

As the title suggests the theme of Freedom plays a central role. Who is free though? The individual Berglunds? The Cerulean Warbler? Patty and Walters acquaintances? The American population? Franzen poses tons of questions and this is what makes Freedom such an enjoyable read. We readers are expected to pick answers and form our own conclusions – Franzen drops hints, both subtle and not, about the notion of freedom but it’s up to us to decide who is really free.

The Overall theme.

Freedom is the central theme but Franzen’s main message is simply: ‘Love is all’ All the characters in this book are douchebags but what saves them from being total assholes is how love motivates them in the right way. Trust me Franzen is not being moralistic but whenever true love makes an appearance things happen the way they should and maybe the final message is that love is what can set one free. Again who knows? All I can say is that via Freedom Franzen has found out how to approach the great American Dream. 

Book 965 Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections

Sometimes you hear about books in places where you’d never expect. I first read about The Corrections in the music magazine, Uncut, the exact same rag where I heard about Vernon God Little. The strange thing is that Vernon God Little is the exact type of book that Uncut would champion –  gritty, rough and in your face-  but The Corrections wasn’t.  However after Uncut started to mention it’s greatness in every issue I was incredibly curious and went down  to my local bookstore in order to buy a copy (Even though I was still working at the rival store at the time, desperate needs call for desperate measures!)

On the whole it’s such a simple premise ; Enid Lambert wants the whole family together for one last Christmas before her husband, Alfred dies of Parkinson’s or forgets his children due to his Alzheimer’s. The problem is that all three of the Lambert children are victims of modern day America and are screw ups of the first degree and it is through these three characters that Franzen lashes out at every aspect of U.S. culture that has pissed him off for the last few years. Whether it’s Gary the depressed banker, Chip the materialistic failed professor or Denise the glamorous chef, Franzen holds no bars in describing what life has done to them.

In the end the whole family do meet together but by now their lives are poisoned by society that they fail even to bond with each other, the moment which causes redemption is when Alfred dies and then the Lamberts realise what has happened to them.

The Corrections is not a perfect book. The bits where Chip gets involved with the Lithuanian underworld is a bit dull and unnecessary, so is the cruise that Enid and Alfred go on (although Alfred’s dream is one of the best passages in the book). Place these two blips aside and you do have a powerful, and in an odd way prophetic novel of the Bush administration. Franzen’s satire, although vicious is never in your face and at times is also humorous.  Yet there is an aura of greatness in this book, which places Franzen in the League of DeLillo, Roth, McCarthy, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Fitzgerald. In fact I think it would be safe to say that The Corrections is the last truly Great American Novel, in the fullest sense of the word.