Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oprah finally got it right

Jonathan Franzen

Freedom had a lot of things working against it before I picked it up: it got rave critical reviews (pretentious middle-aged men and I typically don't have similar reading tastes), mixed popular reviews (mixed reviews can actually be a plus because then you at least know people are being honest), and then Oprah picked it as her newest book club pick (I love Oprah but, let's be honest, she doesn't have great taste in book selections). However, I was still intrigued and decided to give this one a try....and am glad I did.

Patty and Walter Berglund are a happily married couple living in the suburbs of Minnesota. Walter is a nature-lover who always thought he would do activist work, but gladly works at a corporate job so that Patty can stay home with their kids, Jessica and Joey. As the kids get older and Patty and Walter begin to grow apart, their life stories are told through a combination of flashbacks and current stories, with different parts of the story being told from different parts of view. The theme running through the book is the idea of freedom: what each persons idea of freedom is and what happens when they actual gain the freedom they always thought they wanted.

I think Freedom is best described by what it is not; this book is not:
· a plot driven novel - it is very character driven and while there is a storyline, the common thread is just the life of a family and the peripheral events that shape their lives together.
· a feel-good story - it definitely leans more toward a realistic view of a slightly dysfunctional family...the family isn't horribly dysfunctional, just the parents gradually grow apart, the son becomes rebellious, and the daughter feels like she has to be perfect.
· full of lovable characters - in fact, most of the characters were not likable at all. They were selfish, mentally unstable, and made unforgivable mistakes; but instead of making me hate the book, the characters kept pulling me back in to see what would happen next and if the family would make it through the next challenge.
· Freedom also had subtle social, environmental, and political commentaries (sometimes not so subtle) that I thought added greatly to the overall story by bringing a bit of the outside world into what otherwise would have been an isolated family story.

While I greatly enjoyed Freedom and had trouble putting it down, many people will probably read this review and be even more convinced to stay away from this book! But, sometimes the best and most influential books end up being the most polarizing...and I ended up on the positive side.

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