Book Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I started Freedom by Jonathan Franzen as an audio book, and it is well-narrated by David LeDoux. It definitely takes a while to get going and has a voyeur’s delight in the minutia of suburbia dysfunction.

Freedom-coverFreedom follows self-absorbed and unlikable characters as they go about their petty existences, hurting each other and themselves and then lamenting it before repeating the cycle. It was one dysfunctional relationship exchange after another, and not in an ironic way.

The lives of the characters that unfold in Freedom are convincing, often mundane, and always messed-up. The story plays out with the believability of shaky handheld cameras on Cops (i.e., It’s ugly, but we’ll watch because, down deep, we are all voyeurs of life).

The thing is, the Cops TV show is thirty minutes long. That’s an appropriate-sized serving of unhealthy behavior put on display for the sake of entertainment. It’s not so much that it overwhelms you. Freedom immerses the reader in dysfunctional characters behaving badly. It absolutely wallows in its own sick, and it does so in slow motion, uncut scenes.

The length of the book (over 24 hours as an audiobook) accentuates the smallness of what is going on, despite the clear aim at larger, overarching themes. Simply, by the time it got around to closing the loop on what was started – that moment where I got what the author wanted to convey – I had lost interest.

boring book cat

It is a cast of antagonists with no protagonist to root for, and that made it difficult to become vested in what was going on. There were times where I did like a character at first, only to find out later he\she was just as odious as the rest.

I am very impressed with Franzen’s prose, and I think that is what kept me hanging on – I wanted to see how he would unfold a scene, and he excels at believable dialog to the point that I didn’t care that the conversation was about birds or buying old vehicle parts or a transient conversation between a boy and his girlfriend about getting together over the holiday.

Though immaculately written, Freedom progresses too slow to hold my interest. The fact that there wasn’t a single character I liked made listening to it a labored process.

There is a specific kind of reader who would eat this up, but it is not me.


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