Freedom: A novel Review
There has been much in the press and on TV recently about Franken’s “Freedom”, enough to fill the pages of many reviews - so what is the fuss all about?
Could it be that the book is a brilliant story with real characters? Perhaps the writing complements the scope of the long narrative? Maybe Franken has captured the essence of the age and distilled it into memorable fiction? Perhaps this is a book in the long tradition of the Great American Novel and worthy of inclusion?
Sadly none of this is true.
It's certainly not the plot because the plot is all over the place and it’s not the writing because his style and quality is uneven and sometimes tedious. There are few memorable lines let alone passages of outstanding language or poetry.
So could it be brilliant because of the characters?
Like Patty Berglund, or like Walter Berglund, her husband or the other main character that drives the essence of the novel, Richard Kratz. Unfortunately not – anything much in the characterization except caricature. Nothing here that is real. All the characters, main or otherwise, just seem to exist in their own selfish capsules, occasionally brought out to mix and seemingly influence each other. But I always felt they were talking and engaging with themselves – little dialogues in their own heads, sex in their own heads, ordinariness made special in their own heads.
The mark of a great novel is not only that it feels true but also that it captures truth. Look anywhere in this novel, and you'll see how it fails to reflect true relationships, fails to reflect the history of our time and fails to live up to all the hype. So both on the scale of the intimate and everyday and on the world-view, nothing is captured that can move us forward.
As I read through the novel I felt confronted by set pieces, cardboard characters, the politics of the author neatly parceled for understanding. None of these things did I expect of the author of “Corrections”. I felt too often Franzen was indulging himself and his audience. This was a man trying to write a best seller. And it’s a particular kind of best-seller – it has to be cool. Everything that is good in Franzen’s world is about “coolness”. The way people dress, their music, their jobs all reflect being cool.
Well he’ll make a “cool” few million from the book but it’s the nearest he’ll get to greatness. His followers will not universally like this book. Take for example the ending – The ending is tacky, sentimental; some might even say “Hollywood” inspired so that following all the heartache and so-called realism of the earliest chapters he resorts to a cheap coming together of Patty & Walter which is as unbelievable as the bulk of his writing.