I just finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel “Freedom” and I am fucking blown away by it. A few years ago after reading his “The Corrections”, I thought Franzen was the most important voice in contemporary American literature. Now, after finishing “Freedom”, I have no doubts about it. I can’t remember the last time I was so engulfed by a book. The 560 page tome is the quintessential American novel, an epic work covering a few generations, by swaying back and forth through a mesh of characters and events surrounding the Berglund family. Patty Berglund, the ideal housewife, is married to Walter, an environmentalist lawyer who is the paragon of goodness. The couple have two kids and they struggle to deal with a changing America under the stampede of the Bush administration, the transnational corporations and the war profiteers.
You could say “Freedom” is a love story, a Tolstoyan novel told with very small brush strokes, like a family snapshot painted with utmost photorealism. From love, to marriage to politics and morals, Franzen holds everything under a microscope and with a keen eye, he is able to find both the tragedy and the humor of it. During the course of my reading, I was tempted to put the book down at least twice, especially when dealing with the couple’s son Joey, who brings in a Jerry Springeresque element to the story, but in the end, the core of the narrative is so compelling, that I was bawling when I finished the last page and put the book down.