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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

576 pages
published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

I almost feel bad for Jonathan Franzen. It's not his fault Freedom was hailed as an American masterpiece before anyone even had a chance to read it. He writes a book, then he goes over it with his editor, and then the publishing, marketing machine takes care of the rest, launching his status into the ever hyperbolic atmosphere. Again, not his fault. Is he enjoying the praise and attention? Probably. But also, probably not. How can he possibly live up to this standard that critics, fans, and Oprah have set for him?

Well, the short answer is he can't. I tried my best to steer clear of most reviews, positive and negative, before reading Freedom. I had read The Corrections about five years ago and had enjoyed it. Having just finished my undergrad, it was one of the first novels I had read that wasn't assigned to me by a professor. I read it over the course of several nights. Pretty much devoured it. Best book ever? No, not really. But I enjoyed it, and it re-awakened a love for books I hadn't felt since elementary school.

Now, five years, I've probably read 250 books (give or take) since The Corrections. I feel a bit more confident in my criticism and reader abilities. I know what I like (for the most part), I know what I don't like (for the most part), and I can defend my opinions (for the most part).

Again, I was oddly transfixed by Freedom. I read it in about five days. This is not to say I really liked it. The speed in which I read a book doesn't always correlate to my pleasure. I guess it says that Franzen's prose is very readable. Some people say lyrical...or that he's a great stylist, but that stuff doesn't mean anything really. Those are just nonsense words to me. But I'm confused by Freedom. It's not as good as everyone seems to think it is, but it's also not as bad either. I guess the conclusion I came to, after having read The Corrections and Freedom, is that Franzen is a slightly-better-than mediocre writer. And trust me, I'm not trying to be mean. I've given this a lot of thought, probably more than it warrants, and he's a good writer, but his work doesn't do anything for me in my gut.

Franzen doesn't deserve the disgusting amount of praise but he also doesn't deserve the malicious attacks (I'm looking at your B.R. Meyers of The Atlantic). The attacks are just so clearly a reaction to the over-the-top reviews. As a reader, we can't take them seriously because they mostly reek of jealousy. Because what if Franzen's work didn't garnish so much attention? What if he worked in moderate obscurity? Would those reviews be so venomous?

In summation, I have this to say about Freedom: Meh. But as LeVar Burton was fond of saying, You don't have to take my word for it.

reviewed by Schuyler

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