Winner of the The John Gardner Fiction Book Award
Patty and Walter Berglund were the pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant garde of the Whole Foods generation. But now, in the new millennium, they have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter, once an environmental lawyer, taken a job working with Big Coal? Most startling of all, why has Patty, the perfect neighbor, turned into the local Fury?
Patty and Walter Berglund are indelible characters, and their mistakes and joys, as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, have become touchstones of contemporary American reality.
Jonathan Franzen gives readers an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and moving portrait of our time.
"Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, like his previous one, The Corrections, is a masterpiece of American fiction . . . Freedom is a still richer and deeper work—less glittering on its surface but more confident in its method . . . Like all great novels, Freedom does not just tell an engrossing story. It illuminates, through the steady radiance of its author's profound moral intelligence, the world we thought we knew."—Sam Tanenhaus, The New York Times Book Review
"Writing in prose that is at once visceral and lapidary, Mr. Franzen shows us how his characters strive to navigate a world of technological gadgetry and ever-shifting mores, how they struggle to balance the equation between their expectations of life and dull reality, their political ideals and mercenary personal urges. He proves himself as adept at adolescent comedy as he is at grown-up tragedy; as skilled at holding a mirror to the world his people inhabit day by dreary day as he is at limning their messy inner lives . . . Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet—a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"For all that it appears to be their book, Freedom is more than just the story of the Berglunds' fall. Instead, they are the tip of the iceberg, a filter through which to explore the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives . . . In Freedom, [Franzen] sharpens the focus of his investigations . . . If [The Corrections] was a reaction to the 1990s, Freedom is a response to the brutal decade that has followed, in which the illusion of a post-ideological world in which the vagaries of history have been rendered moot by market forces was revealed as the most self-serving sort of lie. Freedom takes place mostly in the first years after Sept. 11, an event the Berglunds' son Joey, a student at the University of Virginia, frames as 'a stroke of higher-order bad luck so wrong as not even to be real.' Joey may be speaking for himself, but he is also highlighting the privilege of the novel's characters, who awakened that Tuesday morning to discover the game forever changed. Besides Joey and his parents, this includes the Berglunds' daughter Jessica; Joey's girlfriend Connie; Walter's old college roommate, Richard Katz, an indie rocker with a thing for Patty; and assorted neighbors, friends and family members, all struggling with the tension between the imagined impulses of their better selves and the baser instincts of their daily lives."—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
"In dialogue that conveys each palpitation of the heart, every wince of the conscience, and especially in those elegantly extended phrases of narration, Franzen conveys his psychological acuity in a fugue of erudition, pathos and irony that is simply fantastic . . . One of the reasons liberty is so fleeting, Franzen argues, is that our relations are characterized by Darwinian competition . . . It's a bleak, relentlessly cynical view of human nature . . . The over determined competition between these characters is reflected by the novel's overarching concern with environmental destruction, the lopsided contest between the animal kingdom and humanity's ever-growing population . . . [A] brilliant, maddening novel."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"Freedom is a bracingly earnest, ethically serious psychological epic that introduces and exploits its characters' mistakes and foibles, then challenges itself to discover myriad ways to eventually forgive them their trespasses . . . A highly readable triumph of conventional realism . . . Addictive."—Akiva Gottlieb, The National
"[Freedom is] a work of total genius: a reminder both of why everyone got so excited about Franzen in the first place and of the undeniable magic—even today, in our digital end-times—of the old-timey literary novel . . . Few modern novelists rival Franzen in that primal skill of creating life, of tricking us into believing that a text-generated set of neural patterns, a purely abstract mind-event, is in fact a tangible human being that we can love, pity, hate, admire, and possibly even run into someday at the grocery store. His characters are so densely rendered—their mental lives sketched right down to the smallest cognitive micrograins—that they manage to bust through the art-reality threshold: They hit us in the same place that our friends and neighbors and classmates and lovers do. This is what makes Franzen's books such special event."—Sam Anderson, New York Magazine
"Deeply moving and superbly crafted . . . It's such a full novel, rich in description, broad in its reach and full of wry observations."—Bob Hoover, Pittsburg Post-Gazette
"Freedom, his new book, and The Corrections, its predecessor, are at the same time engrossing sagas and scathing satires, and both books are funny, sad, cranky, revelatory, hugely ambitious, deeply human and, at times, truly disturbing. Together, they provide a striking and quite possibly enduring portrait of America in the years on either side of the turn of the 21st century . . . His writing is so gorgeous . . . Franzen is one of those exceptional writers whose works define an era and a generation, and his books demand to be read."—Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"A tour de force . . . one of the finest novelists of his generation."—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A surprisingly moving and even hopeful epic."—Heller McAlpin, NPR
"A great novel . . . While his contemporaries content themselves with small books about nothing much or big books about comics, Franzen delivers the massive, old-school jams. It's not that Franzen's prose makes other writers seem untalented; it's that he makes them seem so lazy, so irrelevant, so lacking in the kind of chutzpah we once expected from our best authors. Freedom doesn't name check War and Peace for nothing. It's making a claim for shelf space among the kind of books that the big dogs used to write. The kind they called important. The kind they called greats."—Esquire
"Exhilarating . . . Gripping . . . Moving . . . On a level with The Great Gatsby [and] Gone With the Wind."—Craig Seligman, Bloomberg
"It's refreshing to see a novelist who wants to engage the questions of our time in the tradition of 20th-century greats like John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis . . . [This] is a book you'll still be thinking about long after you've finished reading it."—Patrick Condon, Associated Press
"A page turner that engages the mind."—Dan Cryer, Newsday
"A lavishly entertaining account of a family at war with itself, and a brilliant dissection of the dissatisfactions and disappointments of contemporary American life . . . Compelling . . . Freedom, though frequently funny, is ultimately tender: its emotional currency is both the pain and the pleasure that that word implies . . . A rare pleasure, an irresistible invitation to binge-read . . . That it also grapples with a fundamental dilemma of modern middle-class America—namely: Is it really still OK to spend your life asserting your unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, when the rest of the world is in such a state?—is what makes it something wonderful. If Freedom doesn't qualify as a Great American Novel for our time, then I don't know what would."—Benjamin Secher, Telegraph (UK)
"A literary genius for our time . . . An extraordinary work . . . This is simply on a different plane from other contemporary fiction . . . A novel of our time . . . Demands comparison rather with Saul Bellow's Herzog. . . a modern classic . . . Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century."—Jonathan Jones, The Guardian (UK)
"A triumph . . . A pleasure to read."—Michael H. Miller, The New York Observer
"'Use Well Thy Freedom': this motto, etched in stone on a college campus, hints at the moral of Franzen's sprawling, darkly comic new novel. The nature of personal freedom, the fluidity of good and evil, the moral relativism of nearly everything—Franzen takes on these thorny issues via the lives of Walter and Patty Berglund of St. Paul. With two kids, a Volvo in the garage, and a strong social conscience, the Berglunds allow their good deeds to be tinged with just a hint of smugness (which eventually comes back to haunt them). Weaving in and out of their lives is old college friend Richard Katz, low-level rock star and ultra-hip antihero. Time goes by, the kids grow up, betrayals occur, and the thin line between right and wrong blurs. Fully utilizing their freedom—to make mistakes, confuse love with lust, and mix up goodness and greed—the Berglunds give Franzen the opportunity to limn the absurdities of our modern culture. Granola moms, raging Republicans, war profiteers, crooked environmentalists, privileged offspring, and poverty-bred rednecks each enjoy the uniquely American freedom to make disastrous choices and continually reinvent themselves. As in his National Book Award winner, The Corrections, Franzen reveals a penchant for smart, deceptively simple, and culturally astute writing. Highly recommended."—Susanne Wells, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Library Journal
"Readers will recognize the strains of suburban tragedy afflicting St. Paul, Minn.'s Walter and Patty Berglund, once-gleaming gentrifiers now marred in the eyes of the community by Patty's increasingly erratic war on the right-wing neighbors with whom her eerily independent and sexually precocious teenage son, Joey, is besot, and, later, 'greener than Greenpeace' Walter's well-publicized dealings with the coal industry's efforts to demolish a West Virginia mountaintop. The surprise is that the Berglunds' fall is outlined almost entirely in the novel's first 30 pages . . . Franzen pits his excavation of the cracks in the nuclear family's facade against a backdrop of all-American faults and fissures, but where the book stands apart is that, no longer content merely to record the breakdown, Franzen tries to account for his often stridently unlikable characters and find where they (and we) went wrong, arriving at—incredibly—genuine hope."—Publishers Weekly
Chapter 1: Agreeable
If Patty weren’t an atheist, she would thank the good Lord for school athletic programs, because they basically saved her life and gave her a chance to realize herself as a person. She is especially grateful...