Too much Freedom?

March 12, 2011 | Jane

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I just finished Jonathan Franzen's critically acclaimed novel "Freedom". While some of it was tough going I'm glad I read it.  Freedom is a big book, at almost 600 pages, and the author made me think about some big issues.  I had forgotten about overpopulation and I'd rather not think about war profiteering in the current Iraq war but I do like to thinking about like family relationships and love!   Is Freedom a masterpiece of American fiction?  I don't know, but I do know that I'm still thinking about the characters and its major theme ... do we have too much freedom?

All the characters, including the country itself, struggle with freedom.  In one passage toward the end of the novel a character muses that people are free to tweet each other about the crumbling economy while driving SUVs and equally free to ignore the fact that they are killing endangered songbirds by letting the cat out!   Many of the main characters long to be free of each other but when freedom comes they find themselves miserable and lonely.  Be free, live free, freedom... do we have too much?

Franzen seems to have found his true voice through the average American Family .  As noted in a previous post,  The Flap over Freedom, there was a bit of a "what about us?" ruckus from noted female American authors like Jodi Picoult who also writes big issue family centred novels.   While Ms. Picoult's novels are all best sellers she and her female colleagues all agree that the critics have spent too much time on Freedom.

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Last weekend I met two female friends to discuss this book.  They both finished it long before me and thought it was great with few flaws. We found plenty to talk about. Our previous book was Philip Roth's 1969 American classic "Portnoy's Complaint".  I didn't really like Portnoy the book or its characters. It was, in fact, a bit too much for me.  Franzen's Freedom may be too much for some but I found his prose and content accessible and his manner of expression almost gentle compared to Roth.

Is Freedom too much of a good thing?  Perhaps, but its a big meaty book and I think reading it is time well spent. Freedom is definitely a title that should be on many a book club list.  

Freedom is also available in Audiobook.

My friends and I think we might read a Picoult book next or perhaps Jennifer Egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad" which just beat Freedom to win the National Book Critics Circle Fiction prize.  Other recommendations are most welcome!

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