Book Review: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom

Jonathan Franzen reaches high in Freedom and delivers one of the great American novels. The book follows the story of a couple, Walter and Patty Berglund, drawing a portrait of their marriage, which becomes increasingly troubled over the years. There’s a love triangle to complicate the picture, involving a college friend of Walter’s, Richard, to whom Patty’s always been attracted. Richard, a loner musician, moves in and out of the couple’s life, seeing the two as his only familial anchor.

It seems almost too simple to say that Freedom is a tale about marriage because Franzen manages to shed light on so many issues that can plague relationships–with our spouses, significant others, friends, family, and ourselves. He’s captured the essence of one of the greatest problems of our time–figuring out “how to live.”

We live in an age of hit shows like Celebrity Rehab, in which recovering addicts bemoan their inability to face life. It’s a conundrum that can apply to anyone. Franzen suggests the solution is to deal with our own shit, which Patty and Walter’s son literally does when he physically sorts through his feces to find his missing wedding ring. It’s a messy lesson about love and commitment, a symbol of the hard truths Franzen shows us in Freedom.

He’s not a minimalist. Franzen likes to analyze and explain. He likes words. The result is detailed, precise descriptions of feelings and interactions. He’ll surprise you with his insight and give you a lot to think about deeply.


  1. i really liked this book – franzen somehow manages to educate me on so much, while ‘entertaining’ me with the main story. his stories resonate and leave you with much to contemplate for months after reading. i enjoyed your review!

  2. I was interested to learn that someone was led to my blog by searching “did patty berglund love walter.” That’s an interesting question.

    And so, dear reader, I’d like to answer, even though I’m not sure you’ll return to read this comment….

    I think Patty does love Walter. She never stops loving him after she falls in love during the early part of their relationship (see the part of the book when she visits him at his family’s hotel). Unfortunately, she loses her purpose in life over the years, and with that, her sense of self. I think her confusion, boredom and general “lost” feeling make her wander away from Walter. But sometimes we have to lose something/someone important before we realize how much we value it/him/her–and, here, I’ll cite the book’s ending.

    Happy reading!

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