Freedom, by Jonathon Franzen

I found myself totally engrossed in Jonathon Franzen’s Freedom, and then almost unable to finish the last 30 pages. As an editor, I have to say I think it went about 200 pages too long, and I almost went berserk when yet more characters and family dynamics were being introduced at the very end, when I was ready to start wrapping things up.

Overall, very enjoyable. I liked reading about Patty’s college days, and in fact I think that was the most interesting part of the story, between her stalker and her relationships with her future husband, Walter, and his badass best friend, Richard. I thought it was well written from the various viewpoints—Patty, Walter, their son, Joey, and Richard—and dealt with some interesting family, social and political dynamics. The theme throughout, as evidenced by the title, is the idea of freedom. For Patty, Franzen seems to equate freedom with free time—as a housewife, she spends her days looking after the kids and baking cookies for each birthday on her block. When her kids have grown up and begin to look down on her, she has plenty of free time, but no ambition or goals to accomplish anything. She begins to hate Walter, and seems to hate her own freedom (i.e., free time), and only begins to seem happier when either having affairs or working a gym job.

Richard finds success and squanders it. Joey, a college student, somewhat ridiculously finds himself negotiating contracts for tanker parts and makes a lot of money selling bad parts. Walter eventually discovers the affairs, and seems to free himself from Patty. Empowered by this, he falls in love with a Bengali woman named Lalitha and pursues his dreams of nature habitats for birds until Lalitha conveniently dies and he winds up back with Patty. For the life of me, I cannot understand the appeal of Patty, so I was bummed that Franzen killed off Lalitha. My read? An engrossing story, but a lot of unnecessary storylines that didn’t add anything to the overall tale.

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