*Edited for grammar and typos, 06/29/11
Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is Time’s top choice for fictional books in 2010 and that was the reason I decided to pick up a copy. That it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club at the second half of 2010 was a coincidence on my part, although it definitely added to the hype and to my expectations.
|The author in an August 2010 cover story for Time|
It’s a novel that gives voice to a wide range of characters—college sweethearts-turned-married couple, their rock star best friend, and a son and daughter who are the polar opposite of each other. They are all varying degrees of twisted and dysfunctional and at some point, when they’ve assaulted me nonstop, page by page, of their corresponding neuroses, I had to shut the book, light a candle and close my eyes and breathe. (Freedom reviews I read never brought this up. Ah, Americans and their families. :-P)
College sweethearts Walter and Patty Berglund have just moved to the suburbs and they become the toast of the town. They are well-loved, until a strain in Patty’s behavior gives way to full-on bitching—primarily directed at the mother of her son’s girlfriend.
For a person who has always been dichotomous in his opinions and judgments *ehem*, it’s easy to dismiss these characters as train wrecks waiting to happen. What should be an ordinary phone conversation between mother and son, or husband and wife, is layered with resentment and bitterness—the effect is more scathing than a dialogue laced with expletives—and I roll my eyes at how cynical and whiny these people are. (Look at me, I’m middle class and I’m such a victim! Life is so unfair 😦) But maybe, I am too young or inexperienced to interpret the nuances of a richly lived, complexity-driven life.
The film Revolutionary Road explores the same theme: You have a middle-class couple who recently moved into a neighborhood and they were easily welcomed by families eager to be part of their circle. However, their issues, arguments and heartaches were not abrasive or hostile to me: they were clearly trapped, particularly April, the wife, who drowned in desperation as each day passed. Their issues had weight and I empathized.
The Berglunds, on the other hand, had itches that needed to be scratched and gain closure from. It will take them decades—hundreds of pages—to finally embark on experiences they put off in college.
There’s freedom for you.