Sunday, March 6, 2011

An American Dream

Jonathan Frazen has become a very well known writer. His first novel “Corrections” was published just prior to Sept. 11th, 2001 and has become the beacon of authentic “American Humanism”. His next novel took nine years to write and was highly anticipated. That novel,“Freedom”, is a story that speaks to personal liberty and how we (the American public) can find our own paths to “freedom”. Jonathan Franzen tell us that since most of us begin life as part of a “family”, it is there that we will hone our skills for finding freedom.

Jonathan Frazen's novel “Freedom” is about a Midwestern family, the Berglunds. The story begins in the up and coming (or newly gentrified) St. Paul neighborhood, called Ramsey Hill. Patty Berglund is our story’s protagonist. She was a college basketball star and now is married to the very “worthy”, do good lawyer, Walter and they have two "great" kids. How Patty and Walter got together should have been the red flag. This marriage was in for trouble from the get go. We follow Patty and Walter through their travails and those of their children, especially their strangely precocious son, Joey. Patty and Walter (but mostly Patty) continually clash with neighbors, college roommates, friends and family members. Frazen's characters are very well developed. You may not like these characters but you get to know them very well.

What these characters are all seeking is their personal freedom and the way Jonathan Franzan takes them to freedom is through everyday realism. This can be tricky for a reader. Jonathan Frazen is a very good writer, that is to say he knows his craft. But for me, the tedium of living through 562 pages of Walter and Patty Berglund’s life unraveling so they could find freedom was too much!

However, I know that this novel was very well received and acclaimed. For many “Freedom” epitomized middle class America struggling in the aftermath of 9/11 searching for a path to “freedom”. The novel explores life and a family in all its messiness, its emotions, its conflicts and its ability to forgive. He is making a broad statement on the status of the well being of this country. Some people think he has written the great American novel for this century.

This was not an easy book for me to read. Jonathan Frazen escapes me. I think he is too wordy. He put every cliché and nuance of this decade into this story. Too much was attempted. (Where was his editor??) But I am glad I read it. It may (or may not) prove to be the one of the important novels of the century.

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