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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen - Mostly spoiler-free review

We just finished the much-lauded Oprah pick Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. We thought the book was smug. There was lots of commentary about the world today, but it didn’t feel like the world we live in. There is some real joy, loyalty, and purpose left, believe us. If our lives were like this, we would kill ourselves. The book was populated by mostly judgmental people with many values, but all the values were shallow, unimportant and based off of being better than other people. The characters were fully-formed, but not relatable; Joey was almost relatable, and he made a wise, redemptive decision before the curtains closed. Patty was the most likeable (even though she would hate US with our flip-flops and headphones.)

We liked a lot of the commentary on the culture, even if it was smug and mostly pessimistic. This book was full of insightful social commentary, politics, and character development, but it felt absolutely spiritually dead. It was trying to be really deep and substantial, and it only reached that level every 100 pages or so. There WERE some brilliant moments, but they got lost in the overall tone and story that made us want to switch books.

We weren’t asking for some sort of religious book by any means, but atheists have a spiritual side too, and these characters were just completely dead, spirit-wise. It’s hard to ask a reader to spend more than 500 pages with them. It was weird that this book ended on a hopeful note, because most people who would make it to the end of this glum, hero-less book probably wouldn’t value a positive finale. Two of the women in this book were absolutely disgusting (Connie and Lalitha) because of the way they worshipped their men so much that they ran their lives into the ground and ended up as nothing but pliant strumpets that made us want to hurl.

There was good writing, nice character background and interesting exposition. We’d like to see what Franzen does with a good story. This story was about a bad marriage/dysfunctional family. You’ve heard it before. You’ve seen it before on countless screens. We suppose all the commentary and the picture of our society was supposed to elevate the story to more than another failed marriage story, but it would have been an amazing book with that commentary and more of a story.

We are wondering if we should read The Corrections. This was a technically good book that plenty of people admire. But we think there are two reasons to read a book: 1) the enjoyment 2) to learn something. This book did not bring us either bounty. The first 187 pages were really good, but then it hits a dull stride until close to the end. It pointed out things that we have already seen, that we are tired of seeing.

You know how there are books that you buy, read 200 pages of, and then never finish? We predict that if you buy this book, it is going to turn out like that for you.

Book quality grade: B
Book enjoyment grade: C-


  1. Jonathan Franzen was on Oprah recently, and he seemed like SUCH a snob. It really turned me off to the idea of reading one of his books.

  2. Apparently, he was really rude to Oprah years ago, and she STILL picked his new book for her club. That's called the high road.