Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Freedom to Choose-My Take on Franzen's book Freedom

(Note: All authors write with an audience in mind. This book review, minus some minor editing, was originally written for a MOPS newsletter. So, that might explain the angle I took in promoting and reviewing this read.)

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is one of the more challenging books that I’ve read. Not because of the writing style or language, but because of the content. Jonathan is being acclaimed as the “Next Great American Author.” He attempted, with his latest novel, to capture current American culture.

That is why it was so challenging. All of us, at book group, agreed that he really did write an accurate portrayal of the values and views of the culture in where we live.

Walter and Patty meet in college. But there is Walter’s best friend, Richard. Walter and Richard have a very competitive relationship, almost brotherly. Patty loves Walter, but it takes her making some poor choices involving Richard to discover this.

I cannot adequately summarize this book, it is way too long, but I can tell you that it follows the lives of Walter and Patty from college, in the late 70’s, up until the present day when their children become adults. Each character is faced with the dilemma of FREEDOM. Each person has the freedom to make whatever choices they want. However, they must also live with the negative and positive consequences of their actions. All of us at book group liked how real and truthful Jonathon was in accurately narrating the various consequences each character had to deal with and work when Patty has an affair with Richard.

Joey has the “freedom” to marry his girlfriend, Connie, in secret and then go on an overseas trip with his college roommate’s sister, who he has always been interested in seeing what might materialize between the two of them. But then Joey must face the consequences of Connie’s emotional break down and the irritation and annoyance of the roommate’s sister when she finds that our Joey is actually married and not available.

Jonathon captures the culture view that each person creates their own definition of right and wrong, but he also does an accurate job of showing that regardless of your view on absolutes, there really are some universal consequences in choices that involve relationship with others. We cannot control all the variables.

The book does actually end happy. We were all surprised and glad by this. In the end Patty and Walter forgive each other and realize how much they need and love each other. Joey also sees Connie for who she is, his best friend and his wife...someone he does not need to be ashamed of. And the competition between Walter and Richard becomes obsolete because Patty and Walter work through the insecurities in themselves and with each other.

I think this last book discussion was one of our best. There were some pretty sexually explicit scenes in the novel which made many of us leery of recommending this book to just anyone.

God’s truth is out in the world whether we agree with it or not; all good writer’s observe this truth and write about this...intentionally or not. Franzen did just this with Freedom and because of that observed TRUTH I would agree with many who call him a great writer, and I would even venture to say that his novel will remain a classic.


Anne said...

Great post Rebekah! I've been curious about this book, and I do "appreciate" the consequences aspect of the book. That would be difficult for any unbeliever to deny.

Jennifer said...

Starting it this afternoon during nap!