Cover image for Freedom a novel
Freedom a novel
Publication Information:
North Kingstown, R.I. : BBC Audiobooks America, [2010], p2010.
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19 sound discs (25 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:
Compact disc.
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The idyllic lives of civic-minded environmentalists Patty and Walter Berglund come into question when their son moves in with aggressive Republican neighbors, green lawyer Walter takes a job in the coal industry, and go-getter Patty becomes increasingly unstable and enraged.


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Audiobook SCD FICTION FRA 19 DISCS 1 1
Audiobook SCD FICTION FRA 19 DISCS 1 1

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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. But in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. FREEDOM comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty; the thrills of teenage lust; the shaken compromises of middle age and the wages of suburban sprawl. In charting the mistakes and joys of FREEDOM's intensely realized characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

Author Notes

Jonathan Franzen was born in Western Springs, Illinois on August 17, 1959. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1981, and went on to study at the Freie University in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar. He worked in a seismology lab at Harvard University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences after graduation.

His works include The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), Strong Motion (1992), How to Be Alone (2002), and The Discomfort Zone (2006). The Corrections (2001) won a National Book Award and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Freedom (2010) is an Oprah Book Club selection. He also won a Whiting Writers' Award in 1988 and the American Academy's Berlin Prize in 2000. He is also a frequent contributor to Harper's and The New Yorker. In 2015 his title Purity made The New Yort Times and New Zealand Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nine years after winning the National Book Award, Franzen's The Corrections consistently appears on "Best of the Decade" lists and continues to enjoy a popularity that borders on the epochal, so much so that the first question facing Franzen's feverishly awaited follow-up is whether it can find its own voice in its predecessor's shadow. In short: yes, it does, and in a big way. Readers will recognize the strains of suburban tragedy afflicting St. Paul, Minn.'s Walter and Patty Berglund, once-gleaming gentrifiers now marred in the eyes of the community by Patty's increasingly erratic war on the right-wing neighbors with whom her eerily independent and sexually precocious teenage son, Joey, is besot, and, later, "greener than Greenpeace" Walter's well-publicized dealings with the coal industry's efforts to demolish a West Virginia mountaintop. The surprise is that the Berglunds' fall is outlined almost entirely in the novel's first 30 pages, freeing Franzen to delve into Patty's affluent East Coast girlhood, her sexual assault at the hands of a well-connected senior, doomed career as a college basketball star, and the long-running love triangle between Patty, Walter, and Walter's best friend, the budding rock star Richard Katz. By 2004, these combustible elements give rise to a host of modern predicaments: Richard, after a brief peak, is now washed up, living in Jersey City, laboring as a deck builder for Tribeca yuppies, and still eyeing Patty. The ever-scheming Joey gets in over his head with psychotically dedicated high school sweetheart and as a sub-subcontractor in the re-building of postinvasion Iraq. Walter's many moral compromises, which have grown to include shady dealings with Bush-Cheney cronies (not to mention the carnal intentions of his assistant, Lalitha), are taxing him to the breaking point. Patty, meanwhile, has descended into a morass of depression and self-loathing, and is considering breast augmentation when not working on her therapist-recommended autobiography. Franzen pits his excavation of the cracks in the nuclear family's facade against a backdrop of all-American faults and fissures, but where the book stands apart is that, no longer content merely to record the breakdown, Franzen tries to account for his often stridently unlikable characters and find where they (and we) went wrong, arriving at-incredibly-genuine hope. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Patty, a Westchester County high-school basketball star, should have been a golden girl. Instead, her ambitious parents betray her, doing her grievous psychic harm. Hardworking Minnesotan Walter wants to be Patty's hero, and she tries to be a stellar wife and a supermom to Joey and Jessica, their alarmingly self-possessed children, but all goes poisonously wrong. Patty longs for Richard, Walter's savagely sexy musician friend. Walter's environmental convictions turn perverse once he gets involved in a diabolical scheme that ties protection of the imperiled cerulean warbler to mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia. Richard is traumatized by both obscurity and fame. Joey runs amok in his erotic attachment to the intense girl-next-door and in a corrupt entrepreneurial venture connected to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The intricacies of sexual desire, marriage, and ethnic and family inheritance as well as competition and envy, beauty and greed, nature and art versus profit and status, truth and lies all are perceptively, generously, and boldly dramatized in Franzen's first novel since the National Book Award-winning The Corrections (2001). Passionately imagined, psychologically exacting, and shrewdly satirical, Franzen's spiraling epic exposes the toxic ironies embedded in American middle-class life and reveals just how destructive our muddled notions of entitlement and freedom are and how obliviously we squander life and love.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

Jonathan Franzen's new novel, "Freedom," like his previous one, "The Corrections," is a masterpiece of American fiction. The two books have much in common. Once again Franzen has fashioned a capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life. Franzen knows that college freshmen are today called "first years," like tender shoots in an overplanted garden; that a high-minded mom, however ruthless in her judgments of her neighbors' ethical lapses, will condemn them with no epithet harsher than "weird"; that reckless drivers who barrel across lanes are "almost always youngish men for whom the use of blinkers was apparently an affront to their masculinity." These are not gratuitous observations. They grow organically from the themes that animate "Freedom," beginning with the title, a word that has been elevated throughout American history to near-theological status, and has been twinned, for most of that same history, with the secularizing impulses of "power." That twinning is where the trouble begins. As each of us seeks to assert his "personal liberties" - a phrase Franzen uses with full command of its ideological implications - we helplessly collide with others in equal pursuit of their sacred freedoms, which, more often than not, seem to threaten our own. It is no surprise, then, that "the personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage," as Franzen remarks. And the dream will always sour; for it is seldom enough simply to follow one's creed; others must embrace it too. They alone can validate it. The dream-power ratio is lived out most acutely - most oppressively, but also most variously and dynamically - within the family, since its members orbit one another at the closest possible range. The family romance is as old as the English-language novel itself - indeed is ontologically inseparable from it. But the family as microcosm or micro-history has become Franzen's particular subject, as it is no one else's today. "The Corrections," saturated in the socio-cultural atmosphere of the 1990s, described the hopeful "corrections" improvised by the three lost Lambert siblings, adults manqués lured to the voluptuary capitals of the Eastern Seaboard, escaping the Depression ethic of their Midwestern parents, who continue to loom over their lives, disapproving gods, though themselves weakened by senescence and its attendant ills. Locked together in obligation and duty, assailed by guilt and love, the Lamberts thrash against the cycle of needs - to forgive, to explain, to solve the riddle of unacknowledged hurts buried under thick layers of half-repressed memory. In lesser hands, this might have devolved into cliché. Also the timing looked ominous. Published a week before 9/11, Franzen's novel, set against a panorama of '90s excesses (promiscuous sex and rampant drug use, trendy East Coast restaurants, high-tech gadgetry), all outgrowths of "the rambunctious American economy," might have seemed fatally out of step with the somber new mood. Instead, "The Corrections" towered out of the rubble, at once a monument to a world destroyed and a beacon lighting the way for a new kind of novel that might break the suffocating grip of postmodernism, whose most adept practitioners were busily creating, as James Wood objected at the time, "curiously arrested books that know a thousand different things - the recipe for the best Indonesian fish curry! the sonics of the trombone! the drug market in Detroit! the history of strip cartoons! - but do not know a single human being." "The Corrections" did not so much repudiate all this as surgically "correct" it. Franzen cracked open the opaque shell of postmodernism, tweezed out its tangled circuitry and inserted in its place the warm, beating heart of an authentic humanism. His fictional canvas teemed with information - about equity finance, railroad engineering, currency manipulation in Eastern Europe, the neurochemistry of clinical depression. But the data flowed through the arteries of narrative, just as it had done in the novels of Dickens and Tolstoy, Bellow and Mann. Like those giants, Franzen attended to the quiet drama of the interior life and also recorded its fraught transactions with the public world. Even as his contemporaries had diminished the place of the "single human being," Franzen, miraculously, had enlarged it. "Freedom" is a still richer and deeper work - less glittering on its surface but more confident in its method. This time the social history has been pushed forward, from the Clinton to the Bush years - and the generational clock has been wound forward, too. There is, again, a nuclear family, though the hopeful aspirants are not children but parents. They are the Berglunds, "young pioneers" who renovate a Victorian in Ramsey Hill, a neighborhood of decayed mansions in St. Paul (Franzen assuredly knows that F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up there, on Summit Avenue; the street is mentioned in the opening paragraph) and then float upward on drafts of unassailable virtue. Patty is a "sunny carrier of sociological pollen, an affable bee" buzzing at the back door "with a plate of cookies or a card or some lilies of the valleys in a little thrift-store vase that she told you not to bother returning"; her husband, Walter, is a lawyer of such adamant decency that his employer, 3M, has parked him in "outreach and philanthropy, a corporate cul-de-sac where niceness was an asset" and where, commuting by bicycle each day, he nurtures his commitment to the environmentalist causes he will eventually pursue with messianic, and misbegotten, fervor. To their envious neighbors, a step behind the golden couple, there "had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds." They are "the super-guilty sort of liberals who needed to forgive everybody so their own good fortune could be forgiven; who lacked the courage of their privilege." These heckling strophes drip with spite, but spite is often the vehicle of premonitory truth. The Berglunds really are headed for disaster, though not because there's something wrong with them. They are, after all, "fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street" - and much of America, too. They resemble any number of well-meaning couples for whom "the home" has become a citadel of aspirational self-regard and family life a sequence of ennobling rites, each act of overparenting wreathed in civic import - the "issues" involving cloth versus disposable diapers, or the political rectitude of the Boy Scouts, or the imperative to recycle batteries - and the long siege of the day heroically capped by "Goodnight Moon" and a self-congratulatory glass of zinfandel. Franzen grasps that the central paradox of modern American liberalism inheres not in its doctrines but in the unstated presumptions that govern its daily habits. Liberals, no less than conservatives - and for that matter revolutionaries and reactionaries; in other words, all of us - believe some modes of existence are superior to others. But only the liberal, committed to a vision of harmonious communal pluralism, is unsettled by this truth. This is why a Ramsey Hill pioneer like Patty Berglund will suffer torments of indecision when thinking how best to "respond when a poor person of color accused you of destroying her neighborhood." But, in an inspired touch, Patty is a former All-American basketball player; and her competitive drive overcomes her inhibitions when the adversary is plainly her inferior, for instance the loutish next-door neighbor "in a Vikings jersey with his work boots unlaced and a beer can in his fist" who noisily molests his backyard trees with a chainsaw, clearing space for a vinyl-sided boat shed that disfigures the collective efforts of urban renovation. In retaliation, Patty slashes the snow tires on the villain's pickup truck and then goes door to door like a petitioner to justify the vandalism she, will not own up to. The reckoning begins at home. Just as the complacent upright parents in Philip Roth's "American Pastoral" see their world capsized by their own children, who become militant leftists, so the Berglunds inadvertently have bred a native rebel, their son, Joey. Bright, handsome, personable, preternaturally adept at getting his way, all thanks to his doting mother, he defies her by moving next door to live with the enemy, the disheveled right-wing household where the chainsaw tree-murderer cohabits with a blowzy single mother and her blameless teenage daughter, who worships Joey and showers love on Patty - or would if only Patty didn't coldly rebuff her. THIS idyll, related with brilliant economy, establishes the themes explored over the course of a narrative that moves at once backward, forward, inward and outward - with hypnotic force and with none of the literary flourishes that faintly marred "The Corrections." The Berglunds, introduced as caricatures, gradually assume the gravity of fully formed people, not "rounded characters," in the awful phrase, but misshapen and lopsided, like actual humans. And, as it happens, they are willfully self-invented in the classic American vein. Walter, from rural Minnesota, "the smalltown son of an angry drunk," has made himself into a model of self-sacrifice and self-discipline, but remains captive to the "bludgeoning daily misery and grievance that depressive male Berglunds evidently needed to lend meaning and substance to their lives." Patty, by means of the novel's most ingenious device - a third-person autobiography, secretly written "at her therapist's suggestion" - describes herself as the self-exiled daughter of Westchester County do-gooders, her mother a "professional Democrat" immersed in state politics, her father a lawyer with family money who is a hero to his many pro bono clients, "most of them black or Hispanic or otherwise ethnic." Patty's robust athleticism violates the family creed. "I don't see the fun in defeating a person just for the sake of defeating them," her mother complains after watching Patty chase down a timid runner on the Softball basepath. "Wouldn't it be much more fun to all work together to cooperatively build something?" And yet when Patty is date-raped, her parents' solicitude extends to the culprit, the son of wealthy political activists, while they are merely embarrassed by their daughter's physical and psychic distress. Assaultive sex reverberates through "Freedom," and why not? Sex is the most insistent of the "personal liberties," and for Franzen the most equalizing. One is at a loss to think of another male American writer so at ease with - that is, so genuinely curious about - the economy of female desire: the pull and tug of attraction and revulsion, the self-canceling wants. There are three intersecting love triangles in "Freedom." The pivotal one involves Walter's college roommate, Richard Katz, an outsize rock musician with an ominous resemblance to Muammar el-Qaddafi, to whom Patty, like any number of other women, is attracted even as Katz, saturnine and sarcastic, is tightly bonded, for some "deep-chemical" reason, to the almost virginally earnest Walter. The many vivid scenes in "Freedom" include one in the Berglunds' lakeside cottage in northern Minnesota, where Patty, now married, and Richard, resolutely single, circle each other like matched predators. It is Patty who exults more fully in the pure exhilaration of appetite, though she has been reading "War and Peace" - a touchstone for "Freedom" - and has just finished the pages "in which Natasha Rostov, who was obviously meant for the goofy and good Pierre, falls in love with his great cool friend Prince Andrei. Patty had not seen this coming," she records in her secret memoir. "Pierre's loss unfolded, as she read it, like a catastrophe in slow motion." Yet she will heedlessly plunge into the same error. This is Franzen's self-mocking acknowledgment that not even the greatest literature can save us from ourselves, because nothing finally can override the imperative to be free. "This seemed to her, in any case, the first time she'd properly had sex." Yet soon after, she startles her lover by asking, "Do you think it's possible you're homosexual?" The reasoning is axiomatic: "I'm sure you'd get tired of me very soon. You'd see me naked when I'm 45, and you'd be thinking, Hmm. Do I still want this? I don't think so! Whereas Walter you never have to get tired of, because you don't feel like kissing him. You can just be close to him forever." Sexual freedom, for women no less than men, "the default gender," to borrow a term from Franzen's second novel, "Strong Motion," is yet another form of entrapment. Thus does Franzen wring multiple meanings from his theme, particularly once the Berglunds' story merges with the encompassing history he tells, much of it set in Washington, where the Berglunds move after Walter gets a lucrative-job with a nature conservancy. It comes with spacious living quarters in a George-town mansion, with daffodils and jonquils in the backyard, a fresh opportunity for the Berglunds, after the disappointments in St. Paul, to indulge their "excellent urban-gentry taste." It is now 2004, the peak moment of the Bush phantasmagoria, when it was possible to think of America as "still a rich and relatively young country" and of the Iraq adventure as "an odd sort of war in which, within a rounding error, the only casualties were on the other side." There is no mistaking Franzen's own view of these matters, even without the evidence of his journalism from this period - including "Inauguration Day, 2001," a report he wrote for The New Yorker on the bus trip he took to Washington with a group of protesting young socialists. "Freedom" abounds in journalistic touches, some of them slapdash, most obviously when Franzen revisits quarrels over "the Bush-Cheney venture in Iraq" and the sinister role of Halliburton, "whose former C.E.O. was now running the nation." Yet Franzen, equipped with the novelist's investigatory gene, knows that every man has his reasons. If his wicked portrait of a neoconservative sage, steeped in dime-store Leo Strauss, who dazzles Joey at a dinner party with gnomic mentions of "the philosopher, " flirts with burlesque, Franzen has nonetheless caught the tone of those Bush administration auxiliaries who fluently made the case for the Iraq "cakewalk" and, as Franzen writes, "referred to members of the president's cabinet by their first names, explaining how 'we' had been 'leaning on' the president to exploit this unique historical moment to resolve an intractable geopolitical deadlock and radically expand the sphere of freedom." FRANZEN is best, always, when he returns to the Berglunds. Their uneasy peace, roiled by strife dating back to Joey's rebellion, feels increasingly warlike, as they too breathe the fanatical air that has toxically invaded the land. Walter, "greener than Greenpeace," strangely colludes with a superrich Texan to despoil a West Virginia mountaintop, though it means uprooting 200 hundred local families, "most of them very poor" - all to create a sanctuary for a species of warbler not even on the federal endangered list. The scenes set in West Virginia, and Walter's clashes with hard-edged locals, the proud, embittered descendants of "Jefferson's yeoman farmers," clinging tenaciously to their wasteland - "the scabby rock-littered pastures, the spindly canopies of young second growth, the gouged hillsides and mining-damaged streams, the spavined barns and paintless houses, the trailer homes hip-deep in plastic and metallic trash, the torn-up dirt tracks leading nowhere" - bristle with conviction. Meanwhile, Patty is reduced to a parody of the Beltway wife and finds solace at the gym where, when not toning, she holds down a desk job, mainly to escape the presence of Walter's assistant, an adoring and nubile Bengali-American. And Joey, now a Young Republican paid $8,000 a month to concoct fraudulent reports for something called "Restore Iraqi Secular Enterprise Now," will soon get involved in a boondoggle involving the transshipment of corroded tank parts from Paraguay to Iraq. His motives aren't purely mercenary: he also yearns to impress the Straussian's luscious daughter, a materialistic tease captured by Franzen in all her narcissism: "She gave Joey a once-over head to toe, the way a person might confirm that a product she'd ordered had arrived in acceptable condition, and then removed her hand luggage from the seat beside her and - a little reluctantly, it seemed - pulled the iPod wires from her ears." The magic is in "a little reluctantly": one sees the fleeting look of displeasure, the slow tug on the wires; rather, remembers it, from similar images stored in one's mind and awaiting release. There are numberless such moments in "Freedom," crystalline instances of precise notation shaped by imaginative sympathy. Franzen's world-historical preoccupations also shape, though less delicately, his big account of the home front - the seething national peace that counterpoises the foreign war. Himself a confirmed and well-informed environmentalist, Franzen gives full voice to Walter's increasingly extreme preachments on the subjects of overpopulation and endangered species. "WE ARE A CANCER ON THE PLANET!" he declares at point, in a rant that goes viral on the Internet as his dream sours into a nightmare vision of a land in which "the winners," who own the future, trample over "the dead and dying and forgotten, the endangered species of the world, the nonadaptive." The apocalpyse, when it comes, clears the way for a postlude, set in Minnesota, that is as haunting as anything in recent American fiction. In these pages, Walter, "a fanatic gray stubble on his cheeks," seizes hold of the novel, and Franzen makes us see, as the best writers always have, that the only pathway to freedom runs through the maze of the interior life. Walter, groping toward deliverance, mourns "a fatal defect in his own makeup, the defect of pitying even the beings he most hated." But of course it is no defect at all. It is the highest, most humanizing grace. And it cares nothing about power. Like all great novels, "Freedom" does not just tell an engrossing story. It illuminates, through the steady radiance of its author's profound moral intelligence, the world we thought we knew. A person 'susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom,' Franzen notes, is also prone 'to misanthropy and rage.' Franzen is genuinely curious about the economy of female desire: the pull and tug of attraction and revulsion. Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of the Book Review.

Guardian Review

A couple of years ago, Zadie Smith compared Joseph O'Neill's Netherland with Tom McCarthy's Remainder and declared that each represented the other's opposite: the latter experimental, the former, with its "lyrical realism", the established mode. Freedom is, in some ways, the ultimate lyrical realist novel. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. You can quickly tell that you are in safe hands; every sentence will go down smoothly, and there will never be an ugly locution or an egregious cliche unless the author wants there to be one. Such moments as pull the reader up short occur when the plot demands we be pulled up short, as when there is an unexpected phone call or email and we have to wait for a while to find out what happened about it. (The structure of this novel made me think of someone pulling up a pair of skiing trousers, first on one side, then on the other, until it all fits snugly.) The opening lines seem a little throat-clearing - we hear about someone called Walter Berglund, who used to live in Minnesota but then moved to Washington, and who has since in some controversial way made the front page of the New York Times. The rest of the book is a long, leisurely stroll, with quite a few diversions, that will take us to that New York Times story, explain it, and then reveal its aftermath. So the opening 28 pages show us Walter and Patty Berglund, pioneering gentrifiers of a run-down district of St Paul, Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes and very long and cold winters, asking themselves the kind of questions that the ethical-minded have to wrestle with ("Was bulgur really necessary?" is my favourite). They have two children, one of whom, Joey, is doted on excessively by Patty; he turns into a cool, repellently selfish Republican later on, but in this opening section he is a precocious smart-ass who drives his parents nearly crazy with his inappropriate maturity and heartbreaking independence. But then we are launched into a 160-page "autobiography" of Patty, a memoir called "Mistakes Were Made" ("Composed At Her Therapist's Suggestion"), in which Patty refers to herself either in the third person or as "the autobiographer". In it we learn a few things from the inside, most importantly that Patty was raped when a teenager, but that her parents, local political bigwigs, advised her not to proceed with any case because the rapist was the son of an even bigger wig. This story is told very well indeed, with just the right inflection to ramp up our outrage and see why Patty cuts off almost all contact with her parents; but we wonder at times whether this really is Patty telling the story or simply Franzen being clever, or not quite clever enough. You might recall this kind of thing from Ian McEwan's Atonement, where the (smart) author ventriloquises for a (not so smart) character. (There's a nod to Atonement much later on, when Joey "struggle[s] to interest himself in its descriptions of rooms and plantings". Cheeky.) But what this novel really wants to be is War and Peace (there are numerous references). It would, however, settle for being Middlemarch, especially in the way that its characters tend, with some wiggle room, not to escape the labels they have been given. Cranky eco-nut, cool alt-rock guy, vile corrupt polluting Cheney crony, Republican whizz-kid with shiny loafers, and so on. And indeed, as in all novels queuing up for Great American Novel status, you do get the sensation of reading a 600-page shopping list. Fight between principles and realpolitik? Check. Cross-generational strife? Check. Fighting over wills? Check. Redneck vs city slicker? Check. Infidelity? Check. Goodness, there's even a spot of anal sex. Is the very genre conservative? Franzen is a Democrat, duh, but there are more than a couple of unironic suggestions that what Patty needs is a job; and also, not to put too fine a point on it, a good seeing-to; when she does get one it really perks her up. This is not to belittle Freedom. As an engine delivering a certain kind of entertainment - wise, expansive, knowing - it's unbeatable. To order Freedom for pounds 7.19 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846. - NICHOLAS LEZARD Then we are launched into a 160-page "autobiography" of [Patty Berglund], a memoir called "Mistakes Were Made" ("Composed At Her Therapist's Suggestion"), in which Patty refers to herself either in the third person or as "the autobiographer". In it we learn a few things from the inside, most importantly that Patty was raped when a teenager, but that her parents, local political bigwigs, advised her not to proceed with any case because the rapist was the son of an even bigger wig. This story is told very well indeed, with just the right inflection to ramp up our outrage and see why Patty cuts off almost all contact with her parents; but we wonder at times whether this really is Patty telling the story or simply Franzen being clever, or not quite clever enough. You might recall this kind of thing from Ian McEwan's Atonement, where the (smart) author ventriloquises for a (not so smart) character. (There's a nod to Atonement much later on, when Joey "struggle[s] to interest himself in its descriptions of rooms and plantings". Cheeky.) - NICHOLAS LEZARD.

Kirkus Review

The epic sprawl of this ambitious yet ultimately unsatisfying novel encompasses everything from indie rock to environmental radicalism to profiteering in the Middle East.The first novel from Franzen in almost a decade invites comparisons with its predecessor, The Corrections, which won the 2001 National Book Award and sparked controversy with Oprah. Both are novels that attempt to engageeven explainthe times in which they transpire, inhabiting the psyches of various characters wrapped in a multigenerational, Midwestern family dynamic. Yet the plot here seems contrived and the characters fail to engage. The narrative takes the tone of a fable, as it illuminates the lives of Patty and Walter Berglund, politically correct liberals who have a seemingly idyllic marriage in Minnesota, and their two children, who ultimately find life way more complicated than the surface satisfaction of their parents had promised. Through flashbacks, chronological leaps and shifts in narrative voice (two long sections represent a third-person autobiography written by Patty as part of her therapy), the novel provides the back stories of Patty and Walter, their disparate families and their unlikely pairing, as the tone shifts from comic irony toward the tragic. Every invocation of the titular notion of "freedom" seems to flash "theme alert!": "He was at once freer than he'd been since puberty and closer than he'd ever been to suicide." "She had so much free time, I could see that it was killing her." "People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don't have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily." "But it didn't feel like a liberation, it felt like a death." Such ideas seem a lot more important to the novelist than the characters in which he invests them, or the plot in which he manipulates those characters like puppets. Franzen remains a sharp cultural critic, but his previous novels worked better as novels than this one does.If "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" (as Kris Kristofferson wrote), this book uses too many words to convey too much of nothing.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

After 20 years of a liberal, middle-class marriage, Walter and Patty Burglund's relationship falls apart under the weight of a morally ambivalent son, the return of Walter's famous best friend, and the 21st century. The highly anticipated follow-up to the National Book Award winner The Corrections (2001) lives up to the hype with Franzen's ability to capture the twists and turns of U.S. culture and history while weaving them into the lives of flawed but fully developed characters. While actor/narrator David Ledoux aptly portrays the emotions of the story, more distinguishable character voices would have made this audio version at times easier to follow. If you have a patron wanting one of the most heralded books of this year or decade, this is it. [The No. 1 New York Times best-selling Farrar hc received a starred review, LJ 8/10.-Ed.]-Johannah Genett, Hennepin Cty. Libs., Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.