“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom

So the dust-jacket description of Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, is up at Amazon:   

Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.
But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?
In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.’

Wow. This sounds awful. I know it’s not acceptable to judge a book by its dust cover, but this just seems like it going to be really, really didactic (although the suggested satire of bourgeois, knee-jerk lefty politics (Whole Foods, recycling) implicit in the above will probably be pretty good in the way that his satire of Chip and ‘hip’ academia was pretty good in The Corrections). To me this sounds like the result of Franzen’s increasingly populist aesthetic proclamations, which is something I’ve always found weird coming from him, because he’s pretty clearly at his best working in the other direction (like the more experimental scenes that reflected Albert’s disorientation on the cruise ship in his last novel). Here’s to hoping my assumptions are wrong…


Olivia Mayer said...

Are you kidding?! I think this sounds fantastic, and judging from the excerpts in the New Yorker, it's going to be amazing. I'm such a fan of 'The Corrections' though (like a million other people, I know) that it's almost mandatory for me to love 'Freedom'.

I agree that the cover looks like crap, though.

A-Z said...

Well, until the book is actually available in bookshops, you can read the two excerpt from Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM in The New Yorker or read the Excerpt Reader's short review in http://the-excerpt-reader.blogspot.com/2010/07/excerpt-jonathan-franzens-freedom.html

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