Some Macro-Level Thoughts on Freedom
Part of me is a bit sad that Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom clocked in at somewhere around 570-ish pages, yet is being hailed by the press as one of those big books. Works such as Infinite Jest or 2666, where it takes weeks that stretch into a couple of months to finish, feel like big books. But I forgot, this is the age of Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare, so 570 or so pages ask readers to ignore their phones for a good chunk of time.
Even though Freedom is not a doorstopper, this does not detract from its breadth. As I was nearing the end (Freedom is a book easily slayed in one long weekend), the 140-character-or-less synopsis floating in my head was, “Want to know where the last 10 years went? Read Freedom.” Corruption in Iraqi procurement contracts, check. The rise of the exburbs and the housing bubble, check. The transition of NPR from a liberal news source to the place where you go for a “First Listen” of the new Bright Eyes album, check. College kids who don’t bother to check voicemail anymore because it takes too long, check. It’s all in there.
Or maybe, it’s not. This breadth is a bit deceptive. Except for the secondary character of “Lalitha,” who is of Indian descent, there really isn’t any racial color in this book. Instead Franzen fills in the lines with how Red States and Blue States, Gen Yers and Boomers, and unhappy housewives and NYC singletons view freedom. Race isn’t really addressed at all, but I don’t think this is a fair criticism because Franzen writes what he knows, from the perspective of white professionals for an audience of white professionals.
All of these big themes are wrapped around the smaller story of Patty and Walter Beglund, whose 30-plus year marriage poses the micro-level question, “Can a miserable marriage be transformed into a viable marriage?”