Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: Freedom

I may have mentioned before that I love to read. I decided that I should try to do a book review of the stories I’ve been reading.  I think it will be nice to be able to look back upon these reviews when I’m trying to remember what I thought of a particular book that I’ve read.

I’m not an expert reviewer, in fact I think I'm pretty bad at it because I don't take a lot of time remembering what I liked about a book. I also don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the technical proficiency of the authors I enjoy.  I couldn’t even tell you what kinds of books I prefer, except that I love good character development, and feel good about a book if it teaches me something I didn’t know before I read it.

With that said, my first book review is going to be for Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.

(Huh, I just looked it up on Amazon to get the link and see that it was an Oprah selection.  I didn’t know that.  Not that it matters, I just wasn’t aware.)

Anyway, the book is 576 pages long, and was published in August of 2010. 

I’ll start by saying that I loved this novel, and was impressed with it because it took the story of a regular middle class family, with their believable problems and made it truly interesting.  If someone were to ask me what the book was about, I could say that it’s about a long time married couple who struggle with the relationships they have with their kids, and who aren’t quite sure of their commitment to one another. That sounds pretty boring, though.  And how would Franzen fill 576 pages full of that?

He did it by weaving a web full of complex characters with ordinary problems.  Walter was ‘too nice’, and yet he had a wicked angry side.  His wife Patti was confused, but competitive.  Richard was the bad boy, the kind of man every self-respecting good girl falls for in college, and yet he was drawn to his friend Walter, perhaps because of his goodness. Patti and Walter’s kids had believable issues: shacking up with the neighbor girl at age 13, sibling rivalry and a daughter who thought she was above all of the struggles. 

The relationships between each of the characters was fully vetted in the novel, and in the end, there were strands woven from one person to the other resulting in a tight web of a realistic and entertaining story.  I wanted to know if Joey would ever forgive his mother for the mistakes she made as she parented him, trying to get him to be on her side, to love her the most.

I think what captivated me the most about this novel is that it shows the cycles that a long time marriage go through.  The story breezed through the easy years, highlighting what worked between them with a lighthearted view.  The focus was on the rough patches in the marriage.  The bitter betrayals severed the artery of Patti and Walter’s marriage, but they also led each of them to find themselves and become whole again.

It would take pages and pages to detail what I loved about the characters in this book.  I’m a character snob, and nothing annoys me more in a novel than an author trying to pass a character off as perfect.  We all have our flaws and quirks and insecurities, dangit, and that’s what makes us interesting!  Franzen made this novel interesting because his characters had flaws. Major flaws that made other people dislike them.  You loved Patti and rooted for her to succeed, but you can understand why the ladies of her stylish neighborhood didn’t care for her.

That’s real life!  And I loved that much of the story was based in Minnesota.  That’s unusual in itself – sometimes it’s hard to find enough glitz and glamour when you drop the family of a complicated novel in the middle of the ‘boring’ Midwest.  

Politics played a huge part of the story of this book, and while the main characters definitely leaned toward the left, it was interesting to see the dynamics of Democrat vs. Republican, especially when family members took opposite sides.  There was a lot of content devoted to things that I know nothing about (mountaintop coal mining, bird species preservation, population control, etc.) but these parts didn’t drag or become too dense for my enjoyment.   

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I flew through it faster than most novels of its size.  As I’ve mentioned, a truly enjoyable novel pulls me in by dropping me into a world of interesting, yet believable characters.  Freedom did just that, and I was very sorry when my Kindle displayed that final blank page at the end of the story.

Overall grade: A-


Prairie Chicken said...

OK, I'm convinced. I'll try it again.

Jen K said...

Seriously great review. I enjoyed reading it. I'll have to get my name back on the waiting list at the library.

Travis Erwin said...

Congrats to you and the Pack.

D. Marie said...

I had to come back to this post and leave a comment. (Thank goodness you don't close your comments after 'X' amount of days, otherwise I'd be screwed!) I am reading this book right now and having the darnedest time getting through it! I thought I remembered you saying you liked it. Man. I am treading through sludge here! I'm not quite done (almost), but wish I was just so I could say I was. What am I missing?

Monnik said...

D. Marie - I don't know if you're missing anything. I know so many people who had the same reaction you did, but I thoroughly enjoyed Freedom.

Interestingly, I tried to read The Passage upon your suggestion, I believe, and I could not finish it!

Life's too short to finish books that don't do it for you, man. :)