Friends, I have a book recommendation for you. Freedom by Johnathan Franzen is touted as a modern classic, “A masterpiece of American fiction,” according to The New York Times, and I wholeheartedly agree. I devoured it, read several passages a few times, and found myself laying in the sun just kind of swirling in the language and story patterns. My sister Gen has read it too, so sitting for hours to discuss it with her is now on my short list of wishes. Have you read it? Will you read it so we can talk? Okay. Cool, thanks.
Some stories are complex because of action, plot, or science; Freedom is complex because of its perfectly believable (and fascinating) human characters. I found myself loving, resenting, and being curious about the same core personalities over and over again. Just like in real life. I laughed at them, felt aching sadness on their behalf, and worried for their poor decisions. It was wonderful.
Some stories are told from one perspective; Freedom is told from mostly a few, but eventually all, which is deeply satisfying. Do you ever hear a person’s life story and wonder what biases are at work, what filters are keeping you from the full truth, or maybe… What is hidden even from this person? Freedom chips away at intersecting stories by telling the same one from many perspectives. The reader is fed a feast in courses, and each one is delicious and stimulating toward the next.
Some stories are set in a single time and space, or laid out in a linear way; Freedom spans a few decades and is told in a layered, non-chronological way, but with perfect rhythm. It’s all really wonderful. And it all sneaks up on the reader rather gently. And the fact that this collection of life stories spans a few decades means that the reader gets at least some fruition, at least a measure of oh that’s how that works out. But not so much that all mystery is lost. Just enough to really marvel at the insight and fantasy.
And finally, some stories are told with either stark, utilitarian language or over-flowering, unnecessarily decorative prose; Freedom possesses its own clean, seductive, informative, charming style. Franzen writes with long sentences that are the perfect length, like he’s indulging himself a little but with good manners. He mixes action and insight better than any writer I remember ever reading. (Absolutely my goal as a wannabe.)
Okay. That’s my writer-reader’s praise for the book. Let’s see if I can tempt you. Hopefully none of these sentences are spoilers:
Young female athlete falls for the wrong guy, mostly resists him, has a female friend who is unhealthily obsessed with her, and bucks against her family which might no be everything she thinks but is still totally normal, though it takes her a long while to realize that normal is a relative term. A great, stable, normal guy falls hard for her. She takes him for granted. She suffers a life changing injury. Roads trips are taken, college ends. All precursors to mid-life crises for all.
Married woman has a truly steamy but also pathetic affair with her husband’s best friend, but we see the inner workings of their flirtation and seduction, not just the sex. We also see the husband’s response. His inner workings, not just his base reaction.
Kids are born, life patterns are established and followed with terrifying accuracy, careers are forged in new political scenery, music is explored. Sex. Plenty of it. Also drugs. And nature conservancy. And basketball and neighborhood associations. And domestic cats versus native songbirds.
The autobiographer now thinks that compliments were like a beverage she was unconsciously smart enough to deny herself even one drop, because her thirst for them was infinite.
Okay, friends, if I continue here I will risk retelling the whole gorgeous thing to you. Instead, promise me you will read Freedom then call me for a coffee date so we can talk for hours, possibly in L.A. so Gen can join us. (Then we will go watch her her skate some Derby magic!) This modern classic offers a wealth of instruction on humanity and American society. A feast in every way. I really loved it and, maybe more importantly, had a great fun time reading it.
Over and out. Happy Saturday to you.
“A universe that permits her to do this, at this relatively late point in her life,
in spite of her not having been the best person, cannot be a wholly cruel one.”
~Jonathan Franzen, Freedom