From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a darkly comedic novel about family.
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 neighbor, 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, total family man - she was doing her small part 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 - outré rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival - still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?
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, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. 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.
©2010 Jonathan Franzen (P)2010 Macmillan Audio
"The Great American Novel." (Esquire)
"It’s refreshing to see a novelist who wants to engage the questions of our time in the tradition of 20th-century greats like John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis . . . [This] is a book you’ll still be thinking about long after you’ve finished reading it." (Patrick Condon, Associated Press)
“Writing in prose that is at once visceral and lapidary, Mr. Franzen shows us how his characters strive to navigate a world of technological gadgetry and ever-shifting mores, how they struggle to balance the equation between their expectations of life and dull reality, their political ideals and mercenary personal urges. He proves himself as adept at adolescent comedy as he is at grown-up tragedy; as skilled at holding a mirror to the world his people inhabit day by dreary day as he is at limning their messy inner lives . . . Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet—a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
I am a non-fiction guy. I read (listen to) a lot of business books, history books and opinion based on fact (!) books, so it was rather odd that I purchased this nove. I had seen a very glowing review of it in National Review, so it caught my interest. I had just finished Ayn Rand's 51 hour epic, Atlas Shrugged, so I wasn't sure I was up for another stemwinder.
Some of the reviews of this audiobook disparaged David LeDoux's reading of it, especially his rendition of Lalitha, the Bengali girlfriend of Walter. Her voice was a bit contrived, but it was actually not a bad version of a man's Indian accent (albeit a man with a tenor voice.) Seriously, I thought his manner of speaking was soooooooo totally well-done. Some narrators just speak the words, others attempt to bring life to the words while not attempting to actually sound like the character, but LeDoux does it all and it really helped me make it through a 24 hour book.
Rather than review the substance of the book, which has already been well covered, I wanted to comment on the form. As an audiobook, I found it a bit tough to follow the timeline as well as some of the characters of the novel. Franzen's use of time shifting, sometimes in remembrances, sometimes in just seemingly random storyline movements were confusing to this listener. Also, in one chapter near the end when Patty was dealing with her family, the names became almost overwhelming to place without having a visual marker by which to sort them, but such is a hazard of audiobooks.
My hearty recommendation is to get this book. Don't be swayed by a few naysayers about the narration. Plus when you are done with it, you will feel soooooooo much better about your own situation in life. Reeeeally...
Say something about yourself!
I couldn't wait for Jonathan Franzen's new book to come out. And I have to say...I kinda sorta hated it. And I liked it. A lot. I did not, however, LOVE it.
I like difficult books with difficult characters. But, with the exception of one or two characters, this is a book filled with intensely selfish, deeply unlikeable people. Would that I could create characters so clearly defined! I mean, Franzen is brilliant in this regard. You know EXACTLY who these people are...and you would never want to invite them to dinner.
I had to struggle to get through it. I'm conflicted. Great writing, great story line. But really hard people to spend time with.
I will say, the ending was very satisfying, so I'm glad I hung in there. Getting to the final sentences, though, was a struggle for this voracious reader of comtemporary and classic literature.
Constantly in search of the perfect listen.
This is a brilliantly written novel. One of the best I’ve read, or listened to, in quite a while. The story-line itself does not give an accurate picture of what this book is all about. When looked at superficially, the main characters are stereotypes of white, liberal, middle class Americans. The subject matter of teenage rebellion, strained relationships with parents, marital estrangement and infidelity can all be considered overdone and passé, but Franzen brings a new insight to these themes and explores them with an honesty and understatedness that is completely refreshing. Freedom is an epic story depicting contemporary American life in a distinctive, intimate and unique way.
David LeDoux, the narrator, does a great job, especially considering the fact that while the author is male, the majority of this story is told from the perspective of Patty Berglund, a female. Having a male narrator does not take away from things one little bit. This is also a long book and the story takes place over many years. The narrator keeps things moving in an entertaining and understandable way.
With so much maudlin advance-hype of the printed novel, I looked for reasons to criticize this audiobook. Alas, it lived up to, and in my opinion, exceeded expectations.
David LeDoux does a masterful job in performing the many voices in Freedom. I’ve watched several YouTube interviews of Fanzen. LeDoux’s voice and presentation are similar. He captures Franzen’s manner of speaking which is consistent with the tone and themes of this book. Whether this was intended by the producers is an open question since the narrator of the audiobook The Corrections had a smoky, older voice (though he did a good job).
Fanzen has been criticized for his sarcastic and cynical interviews, but to me he is entertaining, sincere, and very, very smart. Many great authors such as Joyce, Hemmingway, and Fitzgerald had big egos. They took their writing seriously and expected the same from their readers. This is not a bad thing.
I have listened to a little over 300 unabridged audiobooks, many of them recordings of classics such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Joyce, etc. I don’t give inflated reviews. Offhand, the only performance that meets or exceeds LeDoux’s performance is Jeremy Iron’s reading of Lolita. This audiobook is worth the time and money, and then some. It’s that good.
I spent a wonderful 24 hours listening to "Freedom", examining my own political leanings and marital history and consumerist tendencies as Franzen's characters displayed theirs. I am roughly the same age as Walter and Patty Berglund, so the subject matter - a beautiful and complex story of a modern American family - was as familiar to me as my own personal history.
The narration was excellent (except for the female Indian character, who tended to sound like a caricature at times). I found myself rapt with attention, stopped in my driveway, unable to bring in the groceries and unwilling to tend to my email and cell phone messages.
Franzen peels back the the American psyche with the same empathy for flaws as Updike and all of the pathos of Roth. Each character is at war with themselves in a battle to be the excessive American role model. The conflicts are both rich and subtle and every word is like a scalpel. This is a story for the ages.
How stupid, really. On and on and on. The first chapter is magical, spare and transcendent with not a word out of place. I recalled reading this select piece as a short story back in 2009 in The New Yorker as "Good Neighbors" and loved it then as now. What follows is 20-hours of pointless and relentless nattering of men getting in touch with their real feelings and "finding themselves". Shut up already. And the over-baked political and social justice commentary that infuses the novel everywhere is so over-done it comes across as pantomime, almost The Colbert Report for liberals. [I'm a committed tree-hugger and could not stand it myself]. Content-wise either society in general has spent so much time these past 10 years exposing the dark side of previously private lives; or maybe my own life has become so particularly disturbing that the twisted family issues that were so shocking back in The Corrections here just seem par for the course. Throw in as extra bonuses an ending that out of nowhere gives minor and tiny characters full wrap-up appearances; a bizarre caricature of a south eastern Indian young woman and a tidy everything-wrapped-up-in-a-bow ending. I found the narration and sound perfectly fine. Go ahead and buy Freedom, it is worth reading just to be able to talk about it. At the end though you will be rooting for Bobby the killer cat rather than the songbirds. I certainly was.
Franzen's characters are so well developed I felt they could be members of my own family. He writes in beautiful prose on how too much freedom can wreak havoc on our lives and our environment. I loved the narrator. He had just the right tone of cynicism in his voice.
Many good books, even from my favorite writers, often fizzle out; this is one of those rare and welcome exceptions. I did find the middle part a little bloated, the contemporary cultural references a bit too numerous for my taste, and the rantings somewhat tiresome, indulgent, and cheap, but was ready to forget and "forgive" all those weaknesses when I was on the last chapter. Definitely among the top ten downloads, both in content and narration, in my collection of 382.
Typical cat lady: lazy, sings off-key, craves spicy bloody marys.
1. simply glorious writing
2. unflinching (gulp)
3. observations that take you down the rabbit hole
4. lingers in your mind waaaaaay past the end
5. you may ultimately treat people with more deference
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