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.