Monday, November 8, 2010

Freedom’s Just another Word . . . Not Anymore

"Have you read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom?" "Have you read Freedom?" Have you read Freedom?" Yes, this is the question that I can't seem to stop pestering friends, family, unsuspecting strangers, and even small children with.

But the real question is: Have YOU read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom?

It's possible that I may recommend it. Me, Oprah, and every person able to decipher the English language who has been fortunate enough to come across it.

Usually I scoff at the Oprah Book Club. I hate the idea of people reading something just because Oprah said so. I hate the idea of myself following in all those people's footsteps. I hate the idea that she's going off the air and she will never recommend one of my books!!!

However, I was tired of feeling left out of the Freedom conversation and I read some reviews on it before I knew what I was doing. After reading the stellar reviews, I knew that I must read it or die.

Just so you know, this isn't a book that you read. This isn't a book that read and put down and pick up again. This isn't a book that you read a few pages of if you get some time at the end of the day. This isn't a book that allows you to go about your day while you're not reading it.

This is a book that you live, that you absorb. If you can pry it out of your fingers, you don't merely put it down, you wake up from it. You remind yourself, no, that's not me living in the Victorian house in St. Paul, that's a character in a book . . . or is it? No. It's not me. It's a character in a book. It's a story. It's a story that I am reading.

This is a book that makes you resent anything else that you have to do—like eating, sleeping, bathing, helping kids with homework—because it's that much less time that you have to read it.

This is a book where you hop into someone's head and stretch out for a while. Franzen doesn't draw a picture of his characters, he crafts sculptures and then breathes life into them. And I really want to know what woman gave away all of our secrets? Who told Franzen how women really feel?

I mean really: "Richard looked her over carefully, piece by piece. It felt to her as if, with each new piece of her that his eyes alit on, she was being further tacked to the wall behind her, so that, when he was done looking over all of her, she had been rendered entirely two-dimensional and fastened to the wall."

How did he know that is exactly what it feels like to a woman to be ogled by a man? Who told him these secrets of ours? Franzen gets it. Not only does he get wrecked women, but also selfless men and ego centric rock stars and boys finding their way and suburban politics. He gets all this and he shares it with us in an amazing prose that left me salivating for more and a little depressed and a little drier in the tear ducts when I was done.

The entire book reads like a five hundred page poem—tragic, lyrical, evocative, nuanced. It really helped me to see the worth of my novels and I am of a mind to print them all out and use them for what they deserve—bird cage lining, bacon grease catchers, aids to start a fire on a cold day.

My only negative is that I got a bit sick of the political idealism in the book and felt like he wrote the novel as a platform for his political beliefs. Though his liberal characters were fully fleshed human beings, the conservative ones were caricatures of actual people. If I was from another planet and read the book, I would think that all conservatives are backward thinking, emotionally stunted people. It was like Franzen didn't take the time to understand these (minor) characters because if we try to understand someone, there is a big possibility that we may also sympathize with them. There were points when the politics were a little tedious and all I was thinking was: get back to the story, get back to the characters! But I forgive him because of the anti-cat sentiment at the end. We all know that cats are evil creatures.

So now the question is: Are you going to read Freedom?

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