Tuesday, October 26, 2010

okay, franzen...

Walter and Patty Berglund. And Richard Katz. Yup, I'm slogging through FREEDOM (about 2/5 of the way through) and I have to say. The book is ambitious. Not to be reductive, but here are the top ten things I like thus far:

1. Imagining Franzen poring over his sentences to make sure his semicolon use is correct and that he's been consistent with Katz's elitist self-deprecation.
2. As always, the unrelentingly effective use of ironic distance.
3. That crazy Eliza chick. (If not for her, Patty would be suffering even more from unlikeable main character syndrome.)
4. The passage shortly into 2004 where Katz gives the kid an interview and slathers himself with gracelessness right before the novel takes a huge swerve. Masterfully done!
5. The twisted, fucked up Patty-Walter-Richard thing. Nice tension.

Okay. I stopped at five. I'm going to save the next five for the next part of the book, which I hope to plunge into as soon as my chores and work and other crap are done. Now, onto the stuff that pisses me off.

1. Joey? I'm not buying any of the Joey set up. That chapter that worked as a stand alone in the New Yorker? Does not work in the novel at large. Yet. Maybe that'll change as the context of it morphs with the next half of the book.
2. Patty's parents. Huh? I'm missing something huge here. Seems that Franzen could have referenced them occasionally in the subsequent chapters, as her actions warrant some sort of backstory flashpoint. I'm talking about the slightest recall from Patty's weird upbringing brought to bear on some of her "autobiography" section. We don't want to dislike her so much!
3. Walter is an enigma. We are told too much about him and don't see him in action enough. I'd like to see Walter and Patty play hoops together. Will that ever happen?
4. Jessica? There is scant mention of her, then she pops up with scathing dialogue during the "parents weekend" thing, where it's clear that she's simply inserted to better pay off Patty's sink into poor choice-making.
5. Patty's self-satisfied sister whose name escapes me because, again, she was inserted, me suspects, merely to make a case for the shocking shittiness of Patty's family of origin. I'd like to see her come back and opine on the goings on at Ramsey Hill before the Berglunds up and move to DC.


  1. Did you like The Corrections? If so, how's it hold up? I think I'm in the minority on the Franzen fan club (ie, I'm not one).

  2. I did like THE CORRECTIONS, actually. I found it more heartbreaking. (I love books that make me laugh and break my heart at the same time).

    So far FREEDOM is smart, ambitious, and full of stuff that hits the intellect. But I'm having a hard time with any sort of sustained emotional resonance.

    Thanks for the comment, Bob!

  3. You're liking this novel a whole lot better than I did. I found it thin, and stale as an old interview on NPR. Observations and details were ok but not insightful: I learned NOTHING new about life I've either lived or not lived. Sentences were flaccid. Descriptive vocabulary was sparse. One sequence verged on antisemitic, the old blood libel dressed up in satire that depends on too-easy grotesqueries. There may have been craft in this novel but no imagination or insight, a perfect specimen of 'commentary culture.'

    If this is what's getting praised as great literature I'm discouraged.

  4. Sorry. This book made me crabby.

  5. I depend wholly on your crabbiness, David! As well as your honesty.

    Thanks for posting this. Also, I enjoyed your post (though purposefully didn't read it until I'd had my own FREEDOM adventure).

    Here's David's post: http://notesonacting.blogspot.com/2010/09/franzens-freedom.html


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