Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recent Reading- Freedom

Writing about this book is almost as difficult as reading it was. I finished it 3 days ago and have been trying to pull together my thoughts since then- with no success. Instead I am left aggravated and annoyed- a serious case of agita. It has only just occurred to me that this is probably exactly how Franzen wants me to feel in which case kudos to him but I don’t like it. Not one damn bit.

I approached reading Freedom with trepidation because I disliked The Corrections. I felt nothing more for those characters than irritation and disgust which is not what I look for in my fiction. Not only did I not care what happened to them I mostly wished they would just go away. I was afraid Freedom would be the same way but I’m grateful to say that this was not the case. Grateful not pleased. This is still not a book that will please unless you enjoy reading with a clenched jaw and indigestion. It is chock full of people and situations (middle age, entitlement, climate change, college student angst and arrogance, the Iraq war) who are designed to provoke and unsettle. There’s no middle ground here.

It is praise then to say that in Freedom I saw people to whom I could relate- even while I was uncomfortable. It felt as if Franzen had discovered his humanity and rather than mock it and poke it with a sharp stick until it collapsed he let it live.  Despite sometimes farcical situations there was the sense that life goes as it should and while there are dreadful people and situations there is also the possibility of change and redemption. In a word there is hope (for which I am a sucker).

The quote below is from Walter, a middle aged man who has always had ideals but is now finding that they can be tricky as is life itself. Maybe it’s only an age/unemployed thing but this resonated. Hard and uncomfortable but so true; one of my favorite paragraphs from the whole book.

He didn’t know what to do; he didn’t know how to live. Each new thing he encountered in life impelled him in a direction that fully convinced of him of its rightness, but then the next new thing loomed up and impelled him in the opposite direction, which also felt right. There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive’s sake."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic - ever thought of being a book critic? Movie critic?

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