The Taser's Edge

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; 2010)
by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom is big, ambitious, about people, about relationships, American, worldly, dark, multi-colored, multi-layered, thick like strong coffee or like extra-greasy pizza with cheese that just keeps stretching instead of breaking.

How does it compare to The Corrections? That’s surely the question. It’s very similar, and they’re clearly by the same author. In both books, extended families and close friends and lovers try desperately to find meaning through human relationships but are hobbled by themselves.

Although I read almost exclusively American fiction, most of it isn’t actually particularly American. As I read Freedom, I realized that that’s not the case with Franzen.  Freedom is actually about  Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia, DC, New York, America as it’s located in the world. This puts Franzen on a higher shelf than most of his literary contemporaries.

Who else is really writing about place? Almost every great author you can name, American or not. If you’re really into fiction, name your favorite book, and I dare you to tell me it’s not about place.

To the synopsis…the Berglund family is living normally enough in suburban Minnesota. An unhappy-but-stable marriage. A boy and a girl who don’t get along with each other or with their parents. White people problems galore. Also, both of the adult Berglunds are in love with an indie rocker named Richard Katz, whom they’ve both known for over 20 years. Eventually, there is 9-11, the Iraq War, Halliburton-like unsavory contracting, lots of bird knowledge, adultery, the end of the world through human overpopulation, heartbreak, ecology-saving plots, and a little bit of hope.

That last bit, in my memory at least, distinguishes Freedom from The Corrections. I was deeply depressed for a couple weeks after The Corrections; I think I’ll get by with this one.