Jonathan Franzen: Freedom

freedom-by-jonathan-franzen1Freedom is a novel by American author Jonathan Franzen. It was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and released on August 31, 2010.

Freedom received general acclaim from book critics, and was ranked one of the best books of 2010 by several publications.


Freedom follows several members of an American family, the Berglunds, as well as their close friends and lovers, as complex and troubled relationships unfold over many years. The book follows them through the last decades of the twentieth century and concludes near the beginning of the Obama administration.

Freedom opens with a short history of the Berglund family from the perspective of their nosy neighbors. The Berglunds are portrayed as the most ideal liberal middle-class family, and they are among the first families to move back into urban St. Paul, Minnesota, after years of white flight to the suburbs. Patty Berglund is an unusually young and pretty homemaker with a self-deprecating sense of humor; her husband Walter is a mild-mannered lawyer with strong environmentalist leanings.

They have one daughter, Jessica, and a son, Joey, who early on displays an independent streak and an interest in making money. Joey becomes sexually involved with a neighborhood teen named Connie and begins to rebel against his mother, going so far as to move in with Connie, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend Blake, making Patty and Walter increasingly unstable. After several unhappy years the family relocates to Washington, D.C., abandoning the neighborhood and house they worked so hard to improve. Walter takes a job with an unorthodox environmental project, tied to big coal.

The second portion of the book takes the form of an autobiography of Patty Berglund, composed at the suggestion of her therapist. The autobiography tells of Patty’s youth as a star basketball player, and her increasing alienation from her artistically inclined parents and sisters. Instead of attending an East Coast elite college like her siblings, she gets a basketball scholarship to the University of Minnesota, and adopts the life of the athlete. She meets an attractive but unattainable indie rock musician named Richard Katz, and his nerdy but kind roommate, Walter Berglund. After her basketball career-ending knee injury, Patty suddenly becomes desperate for male affection, and after failing to woo Richard, she settles down with Walter, who had been patiently courting her for more than a year. We learn that Patty retained her desire for Richard and eventually had a brief affair with him at the Berglunds’ lakeside cabin.

The novel then jumps ahead to New York City in 2004 and shifts to the story of Walter and Patty’s friend Richard, who has finally succeeded in becoming a minor indie rock star in his middle age. His hit album Nameless Lake tells the story of his brief love affair with Patty at the Berglunds’ lakeside cabin in Minnesota. Richard is uncomfortable with commercial success, throws away his new-found money, and returns to building roof decks for wealthy people in Manhattan. Walter calls him out of the blue to enlist his help as celebrity spokesman for an environmental campaign. Walter has taken a job in Washington, D.C. working for a coal mining magnate who wants to strip mine a section of West Virginia forest before turning it into a songbird preserve of future environmental value. Walter hopes to use some of this project’s funding to hold a concert to combat overpopulation, the common factor behind all his environmental concerns, and he believes that Richard will be able to rally well known musicians to his cause. Meanwhile, Walter’s marriage to Patty has been deteriorating steadily and his pretty young assistant Lalitha has fallen deeply in love with him.

In parallel, the Berglunds’ estranged, Republican son Joey attempts to finance his college life at the University of Virginia by taking on a dubious subcontract to provide spare parts for outdated supply trucks during the Iraq War. While at college, he marries his childhood sweetheart, but dares not tell his parents. After visiting his roommate’s family in the DC suburbs, he also pursues his friend’s beautiful sister Jenna and is exposed to her father’s Zionist, neoconservative politics. After months of pursuing Jenna, when she finally wants him to have sex with her, he cannot maintain an erection. Later he becomes conflicted after making $850,000 selling defective truck parts to military suppliers in Iraq. In the end Joey gives away the excess proceeds of his profiteering, reconciles with his parents, settles down with Connie, and moves into a sustainable coffee business with the help of his father Walter.

Now, Richard’s re-appearance destroys Walter and Patty’s weakening marriage. Richard tries to convince Patty to leave Walter, but she shows Richard the autobiography she wrote as “therapy”, trying to convince him that she’s still in love with Walter. Richard deliberately leaves the autobiography on Walter’s desk, and Walter reads Patty’s true thoughts. Walter kicks Patty out of the house and she moves to Jersey City to be with Richard, but the relationship only lasts six months. Later, she moves to Brooklyn alone and takes a job at a private school, discovering her skill for teaching younger children. When Patty leaves him, Walter has a catharsis on live television, revealing his contempt for the displaced West Virginian families and his various commercial backers. Local rednecks respond by dragging him from the platform and beating him up. He is promptly fired by the environmental trust, but his TV debacle makes him a viral video hero to radical youth across the nation. He and his assistant Lalitha become lovers and continue their plans to combat overpopulation through a concert to rally young people in the hills of West Virginia. Lalitha is killed in a suspicious car accident a few days before the concert is due to take place. Shattered, and having lost both of the women who loved him, Walter retreats to his family’s lakeside vacation house back in Minnesota. He becomes known to a new street of neighbors as a cranky old recluse, obsessed with house cats killing birds nesting on his property.

After a few years living in Brooklyn, Patty’s father dies and she is forced to settle the fight that erupts within her family of spoiled bohemians as they attempt to split up the much-diminished family fortune. This experience helps Patty to mature. After a few years of living alone, she appraises the emptiness of her life and honestly faces her advancing age. She decides to hunt down Walter, the only man who had ever really loved her. She drives to the lakeside cabin in Minnesota, and despite his rage and confusion, he eventually agrees to take her back. The book ends in 2008 as they leave as a couple to return to Patty’s job in New York City, after turning their old lakeside vacation home into a cat-proof fenced bird sanctuary, named in memory of Lalitha.

Source: Wikipedia

7 responses

  1. Amb un resum com aquest, gairebé no cal llegir el llibre …

  2. After 140 pages ….
    This week I had 2 free evenings, so I invested that time on this book.
    Have read 3 chapters plus the “Intro”, this is, 140 pages.
    In first impression, it is a good book. Even a very good book.
    But the “intro” is quite large and boring.
    Then, a bit of action starts in chapter 1 and it gets a bit easier to read.
    All the time all the descriptions are very very long, to every single and dummy detail.
    But the characters are bright, interesting things happen to them, and not too many words have to be dropped into dictionary.
    I have calculated I do read 25-30 pages an hour, so I guess I will finish it in time.

    Coleagues : end the 1st chapter fast, as the action starts then.
    Enjoy. Sebastian.

  3. After 400 pages (2/3 of the novel) … the global impression is still good, quite good. Not too many persons involved, easy to read. First Patty in detail, then Walter in deep, some time (pages) for Richard, now Joey and back to the trio again.
    But still all the characters seem very superficial to me. No reason explained about what they do what they do. No philosofical sentences describing their deep motivations, no details about their real feelings.
    Well, you’d better discover the internals by yourself. Sebastian.

  4. Well, I’ve finished the book, and I like it. It is not a “hit”, but it is a good book. A bit too large, a bit superficial, not too funny, but not bad.
    The surprising part comes around page 400. Until then, all is slow, just 3 or 4 persons have beed describen in a bit of depth, all the rest are just surroundings. At this moment in the book, a lot of things start to happen, lots of diferent characters come into play, and the last 50-100 pages are just frenetic.
    Even more : I am to say that J Franzen was preparing a quite larger book but someone told him to stop at the “600 pages” mark, I am sure.
    Without telling you what is it about, I want to say that the last chapter is simply surrealistic. Author has completely lost the course of the book, and feeds us pages and more pages with no sense at all, preparing forced and previsible final scene.

  5. Wikipedia:
    “Freedom received general acclaim from book critics, and was ranked one of the best books of 2010 by several publications.”

    a) book critics are being paid to do what they do
    b) if this one is “one of the best books of 2010” I’d like to donate some money so the rest of authors could either buy themselves a gun and shoot themselves in the head or buy a ticket to try to find another job


  6. This man has read a completelly diferent book with the same title:

    It is quite unbelivable to me to read some lines like these:

    “For its first 26 pages, the book seems uncomplicatedly to be what it maybe, finally, is: a pacy, clever, big-hearted comic novel about the strange death of liberal America. An omniscient, or at least unusually well-informed, narrator documents key moments in the growth and decline of a single Midwestern street from the Reagan years to 2001: moments, especially, in the embattled domestic career of trailblazing gentrifier and would-be supermom Patty Berglund, whose son Joey has scandalously moved in with Connie, the girl next door. Many sharp observations about the manners and morals of the granola-munching classes are briskly bestowed on us. ”

    “Pacy” ??? (rapido, con ritmo)
    A “comic novel” ???
    “Well informed” ???
    “Sharp observations” ???

    The teacher told the guy : make few lines with this and this and that words,
    So he did.

    Few lines more (same URL):

    “you never get the sense that the characters are mere Hegelian stooges, passive instruments of an impersonal historical process. Franzen can be funny and wise both at once in a rare way, extending a kind of tough love to his characters; he also does women very well”

    I think characters are passive, Franzen is not funny at all, there very few love in his characters, and he does women very poorly, I’d say.


  7. I am astonished to read this page


    Tim Walker just compares “Freedom” to “War and Peace” !
    Awesome, al.lucino

    Just have a look at the list of Tolstoi’s principal characters

    Strange things you have to do to make your living !

    “You might think it presumptuous to compare Jonathan Franzen’s towering new novel to Tolstoy. As it happens, I needn’t bother, since Franzen has done it for me. Engrossed in War and Peace, one of Freedom’s protagonists – the not-entirely-happily married Patty Berglund – is struck by the resemblance of Natasha Rostov’s romantic travails to her own divided affections: for her husband, the earnest, loving Walter, and for his best friend, a rogueish minor rock star named Richard Katz. “The effect those pages had on her, their pertinence,” writes Franzen, “was almost psychedelic.”

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