Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 52 -- Freedom

by Johnathan Franzen

Started: Nov. 17
Finished: Dec. 4

Notes: When one thinks of a modern elitist, snobby, literary writer sitting around coffee shops in New York City, for many Jonathan Franzen's is the name and the face that comes to mind. To boot, he has somewhat a reputation for being an ass, even to those who are supposedly in his corner. But he's supposed to be a heck of a writer, and I've been meaning to check him out for some time now. Freedom apparently is about modern family life in the suburbs, what I tend to think of as "first-world problems." So, here goes to find out if Franzen will come up with something original or if he will fall back on stereotypes and literary tropes.

Mini review: Original? Hmm, maybe, maybe not, but every novel is original to some extent or other. The story here follows a family of four, specifically the mom and dad but also their son and daughter, as well as a close family friend. The tale covers about 30 to 40 years, with particular focus upon a few years during that period. You see the mom and dad in college, their relationships with their parents, their relationships with their children, the problems they have, the problems their children have, the problems they cause themselves, the pain, the troubles, and eventually the fragmentation and a dipping toward depression. I won't tell you if this story becomes a tragedy or has a happy ending, so you'll have to read it to find out. But I will say this: Franzen can indeed write. I hated the first 30 pages of the book because it was almost totally telling without showing, but once it got past that, I enjoyed his writing style and his characters. Kind of funny, but his writing style reminded me quite a bit of Stephen King, though without all the horror elements, as if King suddenly decided to take up writing about a family living in the suburbs and their troubles, which I could actually see King doing, though he'd probably have to throw in a ghost or two. So, yes, Franzen can write, and he's a decent storyteller, though I think King generally has him beat in that regard. I did have a couple of minor problems with the story, one being that there were a couple of scenes in which there seemed to be some political preaching being thrust in the reader's face, and then there was one minor scene that felt fabricated to me, that didn't quite fit in with the rest of the tale because up to that point the story had been quite natural, but then this one thing happened and it seemed to happen simply because the writer wanted it to because it made easy a few eventual outcomes. There is a lot here said about modern U.S. society, specifically about white suburban life and families and to a slightly lesser extent about modern politics. There were also a handful of fine insights, the one I found most interesting being a look into today's youth culture, both the negatives and positives. Could I suggest this book to others? Sure, but don't expect any action scenes, though the story flows well and is a relatively quick and easy read. Will I read Franzen again? Probably, though I can't claim him as a favorite. Still, this novel gave me a lot to think about concerning writing, so I'll have to let my thoughts gel on this one for a while.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm probably not gonna get around to this one.