Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: Freedom

I've been working on a couple of editing projects over the last couple of weeks, so it had been a while since I had sat down and read, for pleasure, anything I hadn't read before. But, with my last project coming to a close, it was time to find something good to read; it was therefore fortuitous that I came across Freedom by Jonathan Franzen during a trip to the library last week. It really reminded me of the simple joy of reading something new and fresh.

I think "joy" is an interesting word to use in conjunction with Freedom, though, as, in general, I would describe the novel as bitter, cynical, and angry. Or at least the characters contained within it are, and that sets the overall tone, although it does end on a slightly different note. The book itself is kind of depressing, almost heartbreaking, and yet it was a great read.

Admittedly, I have a weakness for character-driven stories, which this definitely was. If someone asked me to describe the plot, I couldn't really do it, at least not in a way that would make it sound interesting. Where the appeal lies is in the believability (notice I didn't say "likability"; there's precious little of that to be found) of the characters and situations. I suppose that, for the general reading public, the secret lives of ordinary people going through their day-to-day lives doesn't sound terribly exciting, but I personally think it's a fascinating topic to explore.

And really, I think that's mostly how I would sum this book up: it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It appealed a great deal to me, but I know my wife wouldn't like it. It's very well written, and on a prose level, it's very easy to read; on an emotional comfort level, it's not easy to read at all. The characters are believable, but almost none of them are likable, at least not consistently. It explores the dark side of friendship, love, marriage, sex, parent-child relationships, and, yes, even freedom. It's absorbing and thought-provoking and delicious, and I loved it, but it requires an investment that a lot of readers probably won't want to make.

Just a few other random thoughts:

* Too many characters with names starting with J. Joey, Jessica, Jenna, Jonathan, Joyce, Jocelyn. If there's a hidden meaning to this, I haven't sussed it out yet.

* With all of the anger expressed in the book on a variety of topics, sometimes it seemed like the author's personal views were seeping in. I don't know if that's the case, just that it seemed that way, and it was a little off-putting.

* The way it ended had a totally different feel from the rest of the book. I wanted to dislike it...and yet, somehow, it fits.

* Not one zombie or benevolent vampire? C'mon, man.

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