Monday, November 8, 2010
Freedom (a novel)
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Once in a while a novel comes along that is everything a novel should be: engrossing story line, believable characters whom you care about, and a completely engaging writing style. This is one of those novels, at least in my estimation. I actually wasn't going to read it, but I kept hearing buzz about it and finally gave in and downloaded it to my iPad, and I'm so glad I did.
Meet Patty, Walter, and Richard. The first chapter of the book takes the reader quickly through the implosion of Patty's and Walter's life together. The rest of the book takes the reader back to the beginning and then on the long path of life these people travel, showing how it all unwinds.
Patty is a talented athlete who carries childhood scars. Her college basketball career is abruptly ended by a devastating injury, and shortly after, she throws herself into marriage to Walter and raising her kids, trying to be The Best Mom Ever, at least to some degree as a reproach to her own emotionally unavailable family.
Walter is a somewhat geeky and tenderhearted man who has escaped his own childhood demons. He is a passionate environmentalist and a genuine good person, and falls hard for Patty.
Richard is Walter's best friend and polar opposite in almost every way. A selfish, drug-dabbling musician, he uses women, and is cynical. He falls for Patty in his own way.
What develops is something of a love triangle: Richard loves and admires Walter like a brother; but, alas, his best friend's girlfriend-then-wife gets under his skin and becomes an itch he can't quite scratch. Patty, too, loves and admires Walter, but, despite constant effort to be "her best person," she can never seem to get past feeling both not good enough for Walter, and as though she settled for Walter in some way because she also has an attraction to bad boy Richard.
Woven throughout the story is the theme of freedom: personal freedoms and the ways in which we abuse them and the prices we pay for them, set against a backdrop of national freedom and the devastation that has wreaked in many ways. It was hard to read all the environmental stuff and not look at my own carbon footprint with a critical eye.
The story is utterly believable and the characters so vivid and real, all of them extremely flawed, but each with a story to tell. I couldn't help but laugh and cry at their foibles, and in the end, the reader is left with a feeling of hopefulness.
On some level, it evoked for me a similar flavor as She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, one of my all time favorite novels. This is one of those books I picked up every spare moment I had, and was sorry when it came to an end.