Love it or Hate it? Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Have you ever noticed how some books seem to drive a wedge between people? You check the reviews and find almost no middle-of-the-road ratings. Instead people either seem to love it or hate it. Welcome to the Love it or Hate it post! Each month, we’ll pick one book to review and two contributors will battle it out to convince you to pick it up or throw it out. Last month we discussed American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The results were close with the “Love its” taking 61%. Many thanks to our reviewers. Nicole D. was our Love it Reviewer and Sashinka was our Hate it Reviewer.
This month’s selection is also on Boxall’s 1001 List of Books to Read Before you Die and Jonathan Franzen, the often controversial author, is out with a new book today! So the question is… do you Love it or Hate it? Continue reading to find see our two reviews. Make sure to vote in our poll at the bottom of the post even if you haven’t read it.
Book: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
First Published: 2010
Find it/Buy it here:Freedom
Synopsis (from Good Reads): 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?
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.
Love it (Reviewer A): I can see why Freedom has been heralded as a “masterpiece of American Fiction.” Franzen writes brilliantly about modern America and contemporary love and marriage. The Berglunds are a mini society for the reader to observe. From the book summary you might expect a flat story of cookie-cutter characters, but Franzen is a culturally-atute master of dialog. The characters are real, flawed, fully developed and highly relatable to me.
I was amazed by Franzen’s ability to write so believably from a variety of perspectives (i.e., a man, a woman, a teen). I was completely engrossed in the story from beginning to end and loved watching the characters grow and change and develop over time. So much of it resonated with me – Franzen communicates the human condition, the good, the bad, all of it and captures the times we are living in.
I got a little bit bogged down (the tiniest bit!) with the environmental/politcal stuff in the book but still he keeps the story moving. It is definitely a “leftist message,” so if you have to agree with the point of view to enjoy a book or if you have to “like” the characters, this one is not for you. I am very conservative but found that I was won over by the wonderful writing and the truthful telling of a story about PEOPLE – ALL of us, whether you are liberal or conservative, are part of a family. Our common thread is the need to pursue our own personal freedom while living with and bumping up against other human beings in the process. Despite my not “agreeing” with the political leanings in the book, I can appreciate the conviction and am aware of Franzen’s own passions that come across. I know I feel strongly about my own personal beliefs and I welcome the chance to hear ideas different from my own.
As I read, I also realized that the themes addressed are universal and found many instances – an observation , inner thought of a character, or a circumstance — that resonated with me time and time again. Freedom definitely seems to be a love it or hate it book, and Franzen a love it or hate it author for that matter – I have yet to meet someone who has read Freedom that doesn’t have a strong opinion about the book. Makes for a great read and even better discussion! I say PICK IT UP.
Hate it (Reviewer B): It’s been so long since I read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen that I was hesitant to write this review, feeling that I would inadequately describe what I hated about it. In fact, I could not even look up the specifics because I’m sure I gave it to Goodwill. I know. Not very charitable of me. The details of the book may be fuzzy but I feel it is my duty to save one person from this dismal read.
Probably the thing that sticks foremost in my mind is the tone of Freedom. It is described as “darkly comedic” but it is not funny. It is far more cringe inducing than chuckle inducing. The characters are all horrid, dislikable people with not a single redeeming quality and I found them and their circumstances unbelievable. I do not have to like all my characters in order to enjoy a book. In fact, an evil character can be quite entertaining. My problem is that these self-involved characters were supposed to represent an average American family and while we are all flawed, the majority of people I meet have redeeming qualities too. Much of Freedom felt like a personal rant on society by the author and while most authors use novels as a vehicle to express their beliefs, many of them do a better job creating characters and a storyline that you can get lost in and forget about the author.
If you need more convincing not to read this book, I highly recommend B.R. Myers’s review in The Atlantic. It is a more thoroughly detailed review that accurately captures how I felt about Freedom. Mostly when I finished reading Freedom, I felt thoroughly depressed. So by all means, if you like feeling depressed, give this book a try. Summer is coming to an end, winter is on its way and it’s the perfect time to ruin what could be a more pleasant week.
What do you think? Vote in our poll and tell is if you love it or hate it. If you haven’t read it, you can vote on whether you want to or not. Do you plan to read his new book, Purity — on sale today.
Want to try it for yourself? You can buy a copy here: Freedom
It’s funny, because the one thing I loved most about this book was that I despised every single character. It was so refreshing for me to be able to read a well-written story and commit my sympathies to no character(s).
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While I don’t want to bias anyone’s voting (I didn’t write either of the reviews), it’s probably pretty clear which side I fall into since I’ve commented on this book before. I kind of agree but also think that he wrote the characters in such a way that I felt conflicting emotions toward them -at times sympathizing and other times disliking them
I’ve never read any Frantzen and haven’t paid any attention to reviews of his works, so I have no preconceptions. I was swayed by Reviewer B. There are too many books in the world, and too many actual dislikeable people, to waste time reading about fictional dislikeable people. Especially if they’re blandly dislikeable. I read a book like that recently, A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. It, too, was supposed to be darkly funny. It, too, was about bland suburbanites in a mess of their own making and completely unlikeable. It, too, was depressing. One book like that is enough for one lifetime!
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I’ve never read any Franzen since I don’t think the content of his books would be something I enjoy. I can’t say whether I lean towards Reviewer A or Reviewer B because like reader A, I like to think I’m open-minded and am receptive to ideas different than mine. However, like reader B I find it a turn-off when “authors use novels as a vehicle to express their beliefs” without a care for three-dimensional characters and good storytelling.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to say. I thought I wouldn’t like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and was forced to read it for a book club. Now, it is one of my favorite books. But I also thought I wouldn’t enjoy White Noise by Don Delillo and I hateeeed it. Couldn’t even finish it and I’m usually an ‘endure ’till the last’ reader. Sometimes, not even good reviews can predict our reactions to a book.
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Hi Jen, I’m new to your blog, but I wanted to stop by and say that I love your love it, hate it theme – it’s so fun. Have you done “The Slap” before? That seems to be a book that really divides opinion.
I read “Freedom” a few years ago, so my memory is a bit shaky, but what I recall thinking at the time was actually how Franzen can’t write women at all! He seemed to skirt around the female characters entirely, and when he did have a go at getting into their heads, it was fleeting and lacked the same kind of authenticity as his male characters.
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We haven’t done that one. We are always looking for recommendations and ideas so thanks! Glad you like the post. it’s a lot of fun to put together every month. I personally loved Freedom (I didn’t write either review). I did read it when it first came out and don’t remember having that thought but that was prior to my writing up regular reviews and I could have forgotten. I plan to read his new book whose protagonist is female so I will be curious to see if I have that same reaction. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I read Freedom when it came out. I didn’t hate it but I would side more with Reviewer B’s take on the book. The characters started out seeming bland and contrived to me, and then became full out annoying. I’m sort of baffled that Freedom has been regarded as a funny book. I am a fan of Franzen’s essays, however, but I won’t be reading any more of his fiction. Wasn’t too crazy about The Corrections either.
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I adored Freedom! I have not read anything else by Franzen because I think anything else will be a letdown. But, I will likely read Purity…just waiting on reviews from some trusted reader friends…