Learn more about Freedom: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #64):
Publish Date: 9/17/2010
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. (from the first line)
|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 millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage 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—outré rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has 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.
Jonathan Franzen follows up his sensational 2001 novel THE CORRECTIONS with the equally hefty, equally rich in characterization, and equally thought-provoking FREEDOM. At the heart of Franzen's book is the story of Patty and Walter Berglund, who at first seem to be the perfect, liberal parents. Educated and conscientious, they contribute to their community and raise two intelligent children. But gradually and with the depth of meaning that few could rival, Franzen begins to tear and tatter their story-book world. As Franzen's tale of the contemporary crisis spreads out addressing gentrification and the business of the Iraq war, readers meet the friends, the neighbors, and the lovers of this complicated and 100% 21st-century American couple. Selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 Best Books of 2010 and by Publishers Weekly as a 2010 Top 10 Book.Jonathan Franzen follows up his sensational 2001 novel THE CORRECTIONS with the equally hefty, equally rich in characterization, and equally thought-provoking FREEDOM. At the heart of Franzen's book is the story of Patty and Walter Berglund, who at first seem to be the perfect, liberal parents. Educated and conscientious, they contribute to their community and raise two intelligent children. But gradually and with the depth of meaning that few could rival, Franzen begins to tear and tatter their story-book world. As Franzen's tale of the contemporary crisis spreads out addressing gentrification and the business of the Iraq war, readers meet the friends, the neighbors, and the lovers of this complicated and 100% 21st-century American couple.
Jonathan Franzen grew up in a suburb of St. Louis as an awkward introspective child, the son of a stern unemotional father who would eventually die of Alzheimer's, and a fussy mother obsessed with 1950s American status-quo. After working in a Seismology Lab at Harvard, Franzen wrote two well-received but commercially minor novels, THE TWENTY-SEVENTH CITY and STRONG MOTION. In 1996 Franzen wrote an essay for Harper's magazine titled "Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels," that discussed the plight of the American novel in an age of television and film, and particularly mourned the lack of readership for serious "social novels" and novels of ideas such as the works of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. The essay ended on a hopeful note, with Franzen claiming that the "social novel" needed to combine the formula of the family drama with rigorous intellectual thought, a fusion of popular and highbrow literature. The literary world waited with a mixture of anticipation and doubt until five years later when Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS hit the stands. The book was an unqualified success, a vindication of Franzen's bold claims: it received glowing reviews, won the National Book Award, and became one of the bestselling books of the 21st century. Franzen and THE CORRECTIONS also caused a controversy when it was selected to Oprah's Book Club, but removed from the list after Franzen denounced the "schmaltzy" nature of previous Book Club selections. Since then, Franzen has written primarily nonfiction for The New Yorker and Harper's, often dealing with his relationship with his parents, and has released two collections of non-fiction essays. Franzen's writing is known for its dark, unforgiving take on family, society, and himself, and for his powerful blend of emotional insight and intellectual thought.
"Passionately imagined, psychologically exacting, and shrewdly satirical, Franzen's spiraling epic exposes the toxic ironies embedded in American middle-class life and reveals just how destructive our muddled notions of entitlement and freedom are and how obviously we squander life and love." (starred review)
- Donna Seaman
"[A] work of total genius: a reminder both of why everyone got so excited about Franzen in the first place and of the undeniable magic -- even today, in our digital end-times -- of the old-timey literary novel."
- Sam Anderson
"Jonathan Franzen's galvanic new novel, FREEDOM, showcases his impressive literary toolkit -- every essential storytelling skill, plus plenty of bells and whistles -- and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life. With this book, he's not only created an unforgettable family, he's also completed his own transformation from a sharp-elbowed, apocalyptic satirist focused on sending up the socio-economic-political plight of this country into a kind of 19th-century realist concerned with the public and private lives of his characters."
- Michiko Kakutani
"Once again Franzen has fashioned a capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life."
- Sam Tanenhaus
"[Franzen] is the most ambitious novelist of our moment -- not for who he is, but for how he writes, his willingness to explore the emotional depths and complexities of the most apparently mundane lives."
- David L. Ulin