Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Reads: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

A while back, I went hunting for authours who were like Douglas Coupland.   Repeatedly, I saw Franzen's name at the top of the lists.  I figured that since enough people were saying it, I might as well check him out for myself.  I hopped on over to Kobo and bought his latest, Freedom.  It certainly wasn't hard to find, since it's still on a ton of bestseller lists.

Then life happened and I didn't get a chance to read it for a few months.  Finally, I started it towards the end of our Mexican disaster vacation.

The story is about Walter and Patty Berglund and their seemingly perfect family. It is told from various perspectives throughout the book. It starts out from the perspective of a neighbour on their street in the suburbs and details how they may look perfect on the surface, but the neighbour expresses her skepticism.
The next perspective is Patty.  In writing her autobiography at the urging of her therapist, she tells the story of her time of "what might have been" with water's college room mate and how she betrays her husband to act upon it years later.

As the book progresses, we get to see through walter's eyes.  Then the son, Joey, speaks up and tells his story.  Briefly we hear from the room mate amd then it is back to Patty for some more autobiography.   Finally, a new neighbour in a new town chimes in and the story comes full circle.  The one character we never hear from is the daughter, Jessica.  At one point, I felt I had thought of the reasoning for this but that train chugged out of the station a while back and no longer remember what I thought (mom brain)
Perfect family, betrayal, longing, schemes, separation, affairs, superstars, death, secret marriage, forgiveness and the perfect family once more.

In many ways, Franzen's style of writing is remnicient of Coupland.   They both tell stories about dysfunctional families who are trying to maintain the illusion of normalcy to everyone around them.  Where they stray, however, is that Franzen weaves a tale of an actual normal family with actual problems that could happen to actual people.  Coupland, on the other hand, is a master of creating eccentric personalities and making the bizarre things they do seem normal.   Franzen did attempt to infuse the story with one eccentric character - Patty's sister, but she made me sad instead of amused.

I think one of the major things that always dras me back to Coupland is the Canadiana in his books.  Franzen definitely infused his with Americana.  Divisions of politics and religion were heavily laced through the pages.
I enjoyed the story - I really did - but it wasn't the style of writing I was expecting after having read so many reviews.  It was just a story.  It kept me turning pages until it was done, but it didn't have the same "just one more chapter before I turn out the lights...just one more" quality that I was anticipating.

Do I recommend it?  Sure - if you fly through books at the same kind of rate that I do - you'll have something entertaining and engaging to pass the time with.  If you like contemporary stories about difficult families - you'll probably enjoy it.   I did enjoy the story, but I still found myself disappointed that it wasn't more than it was.

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