Saturday, 29 October 2011

Book Review: Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

Synopsis - 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 neighbour 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, family man - she was doing her small partr 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 - outrĂ© rocker and Walter's old college friend and rival - still doing in the picture?  Most of all, what happened to poor Patty?  Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become 'a very different kind of neighbour' an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?

Review - Freedom is a tome but so was The Corrections an earlier work by Mr Franzen.  Mr Franzen is quite a writer, he is very good at delving into the 'family'.  In Freedom he doesn't just focus on Walter and Patty Berglund, but on Patty's upbringing and Walter's roots to give us an in depth picture as to how these people tick.  And, what has made them become the people they are from their life experiences.  We learn about Jessica and Joey, the Berglund offspring who are quite different. Patty's smothering of Joey and the effect it has on their relationship in later life.  The author does the same thing with The Corrections and it is quite an amazing art to be able to nail it on the head and write a book of such intensity.  I found the book quite hard going, it's not what I would call a page turner and took a good deal of  reading stamina for me to get through.  I preferred Freedom and would recommend it but with the warning it does require time spent on it.  More than I was able to give, I found I had to rush towards the end to get it back to the library in time for the next lender.  Very well written but a bit hard going for me and a big book.  3*

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