Freedom: A Novel

Franzen, Jonathan. "Freedom: A Novel." New York: Picador, 2010.

I decided not to write about the story of Freedom: A Novel because I don’t think it’s nearly as good as The Corrections. But I didn’t want to waste reading those 500ish pages.  So I thought I’d do a “talking points” style, at least that’s what one professor called it at UNCG.  All I’m saying with this blog is that there’s more self-actualizing to be found past the plot (or despite it). Franzen, as always has a few keen insights–at least for me. (Bottom line, read The Corrections.) There are some good lines.

“Looking back now, the autobiographer sees her younger self as one of those miserable adolescents so angry at her parents that she needed to join a cult where she could be nicer and friendlier and more generous and subservient than she could bring herself to be at home anymore.” (53) So the kid joined the basketball team. What mother hasn’t wondered how someone outside the home clan remarks that her adolescent daughter is so “easy going” when the fam sees only Medea lurking about? Flashback to every parent-teacher conference I attended for my adolescent children. By the time I subjected myself to my third adolescent’s conferences, I was tempted to bring a photo: “No, I’m talking about this kid.” Franzen has clarified this issue for me.Less psychologically… “The kitchen area was a nauseating, never-cleaned sty that smelled like a mental illness.” (120) Is that synesthesia? I guess not. But it’s a great simile.

“…but there are few things harder to imagine than other people’s conversations about yourself.” (46) Not an hour ago, I had that exact insight. My mom wanted to know the medical name of my grandson’s orthopedic condition. I asked her if she got the father’s emailed update. She had. “Can you find the email?” She could, but Lynn wants to know the name for it. “So just read the email.” But she can’t talk on the phone and read her email because the internet uses the phone lines. I’ll spare you the rest. She got a little pissy. I got a lot pissy. Pretty much the end of the conversation. Then, my sister called. I confessed my impatience and she said that mom will likely be calling her soon and complaining about my attitude, temper, impatience, pissiness–whatever. Suddenly, despite acknowledging to myself the legitimacy of those complaints, I just could not imagine how that conversation could evolve. Although prone to massive self-criticism, I’m appalled to even consider that others may find fault with me. Right now, I’m trying to predict what my sister and mother would say about me after reading this blog. I just can’t do it.

“Integrity’s a neutral value. Hyenas have integrity, too. They’re pure hyena.” (245) This is genius, and I will begin a crusade to demolish use of the word “integrity” as an encomium from hence forth.

“The country that minutely followed every phony turn of American Idol while the world went up in flames seemed to Walter fully deserving of whatever nightmare future awaited it.” (334) God help us if we are the tv programs that we watch. “The real problem…is free-market capitalism. Right? Unless you’re talking about outlawing reproduction, your problem isn’t civil liberties. The real reason you can’t get any cultural traction with overpopulation is that talking about fewer babies means talking about limits to growth. Right? And growth isn’t some side issue in free-market ideology. It’s the entire essence. Right? …The theory is that there isn’t any theory. Right? Capitalism can’t handle talking about limits, because the whole point of capitalism is the restless growth of capital.” (383) “The reason the system can’t be overthrown in this country…is all about freedom.” (384) So that’s why agencies are moving away from using a term like “conservation.” Right? We’re all about the more, and to suggest moderating, limiting, or depriving ourselves practically smacks of treason. More than any political, psychological, religious, or social issue, an inspection of the creepiness and immorality of capitalism will incite the wrath of my students. Well, except for that day I might have suggested that Yahweh continually hardening the pharaoh’s heart served to add far more hardships for his “Chosen People.”

“I have some issues with their flipflops. It’s like the world is their bedroom.” (395) Exactly. Grow up.


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