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Showing 1-10 of 667 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 1,473 reviews
on October 4, 2016
What can I say? I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way Franzen began with a tapestry, a lifescape for his characters, I liked the way he meticulously unraveled this tapestry before our reading eyes, and continued to unravel it such that it seemed impossible for the characters, the events, the plot, and the setting to be unraveled any further, and then they are unraveled further, and then the author throws the threads on the ground, tramples on them, and then brings them up again, and carefully, thread by thread, re-weaves the tapestry until it is bigger and grander than it was before. The whole effect is utterly cathartic. I laughed at so many sections, and re-read certain sections that I felt were incredibly odd but delightful. I identified with the characters, mostly with their constant pools of embarrassment, guilt and shame that come with being a human--especially the kind who continues to make terrible mistakes (shame and guilt are exactly those emotions which Franzen enjoys drawing mercilessly, as if to show that once out, it’s no big deal). It’s a satire, but in a subtle way—so yes, laugh, especially when Walter loses himself into all CAPS and Patty sleepwalks against her will. And read with a hearty attitude—it’s no breezy stroll in the park. More like a hike along the ocean in a cold but invigorating gale that blows into your face no matter which way you turn, but which occasionally breaks to allow you fleeting glimpses of magnificent sun-streaked cliffs, reminding you how deep and wide the experience and scope of life can be.
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on May 26, 2014
"Freedom," by Jonathan Franzen, is a near-perfect example of American contemporary literature. Even knowing the length of the book when I started it and having a job and home to care for, once I picked it up and began reading, the story, the characters and some of the best-written dialogue I've read, sucked me in so completely that it became almost an addiction. The more I read, the more. I needed to read. The main characters, Walter and Patty Berglund and their two children and extended families and friends became more real then the one I normally inhabit. It's a tale of unrequited love, all forms of married life, jealousy and self-hatred. Easily one of the most interesting plots I've read in a long time, their words and thoughts resounded in my head as things I've probably uttered at times in my life. A backdrop of environmentalism, athletic, rock and roll, politics and family interaction (both wonderful and toxic) make this one of my favorites ever. Bravo, Mr. Franzen! More, please!
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on December 3, 2011
I love a book with complex characters, the ones I don't like because I either recognize one of my own character flaws in them, or they are too pathetic. I think the author developed the characters well and I was completely dialed into Patty, Walter, and Katz. I liked seeing how all of their obsessions ebbed and flowed over the years and how the same passion could be their own destruction. The author also writes well, but in this reader's opinion, he wrote too much. Half way through the book I started skipping pages of wandering thoughts - all of which could be summed up ten pages later in three lines of dialogue. I literally 'flew' through 40% of the second half and only reengaged for the ending, and I didn't miss a thing.

Overall, I am giving this book a three because I really liked the flawed characters and how the author wrote them in a way that made me like them despite myself, and the story, or point of the book, but the author did not give the reader enough credit for grasping the implications of Walter's passion for conservation and over-population (something I completely agree with), and therefore, wasted some of this reader's time. But I also applaud him and am thankful to him for bringing up the issue of over-population. It is the White Elephant in the world and most people/all leaders are afraid of touching it. But now that I mention this, I guess that is why the author had to write so many pages about over-population...

Written well. Complex characters. Complex, yet rewarding story. But doesn't give the reader enough credit for grasping an idea (at least this reader).
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on June 18, 2011
A few thoughts on this fine novel:

1) Dip into the pages of Freedom and you'll just be swept along by the story, the characters, the observations of modern American life. The writing is effortless. You don't catch Franzen engaging in literary showmanship -- at least I didn't. (Not that I object to literary showoffs -- see Rushdie, Salman.) Franzen's style serves his sprawling story well.

2) Freedom contains some spectacular set pieces and riffs. One that struck a bit close to home for me: a description of Walter Berglund's self-righteous fury at other drivers.

3) Franzen's decision to attach his story to Bush 2-era politics sometimes seemed artificial and not completely thought out. Like at least one other Amazon reviewer, I didn't buy the notion of a 19-year-old University of Virginia student as arms dealer. Even so, Franzen does make some cutting observations of the American political scene circa 2004.

4) For most of the book, Franzen treats his characters with a detached amusement. Every one of them is deeply flawed, and Franzen's dissection can seem condescending and almost heartless (reminding me of the unflinching way the director Alexander Payne sometimes treats his characters). The Berglunds should have been heartbreaking, not just annoying. Then, in the last, I dunno, 50 pages or so, everything seemed to change. These pages are full of, well, love. So much so that...

5) I choked up when I read the final sentence.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon January 12, 2011
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

We are introduced to a variety of characters in this book, as we follow their lives over a period of time. The story is not necessarily told in chronological order, in particular a part of the book where we are given a person's backstory told from their point of view from an autobiography they were instructed to write by their therapist.

The main characters in this story include Patty and Walter, a couple that met in college where Patty was a star basketball player and Walter an ideological intellectual planning to help resolve the planet's ecological crises. They have two children, a daughter named Jessical and a problematic son named Joey. Add into this mix Walter's best friend, a womanizer musician named Richard and a host of other supporting characters.

We read this book for book club, and it was interesting to hear that people either seemed to really like the book or they really, really didn't. The criticism I heard most was that they didn't find the characters believable - neither their actions or speech. I wondered whether some of the disappointment was due to the huge hype for this book (hard to hit high expectations) but I'm not sure that was it.

For me this book absolutely clicked, and I loved it from page one. I just think Jonathan Franzen is a brilliant writer, and I often found myself highlighting various passages just because I thought they were so clever and smart. Such as:

"She was afire with a plan for them to study together every evening, afire with affection for Patty and fear of losing her; and Patty having opened her eyes painfully to Carter's nature went ahead and closed them to Eliza's."

I highly recommend this book, but I would also say that if you not enjoying it from the start then this may not be the book for you. I loved it from the start, although I will admit that I thought it should have ended just a bit earlier. I was also a big fan of this author's earlier novel, The Corrections: A Novel although being a fan of that book does not guarantee your liking this one, as I've learned from others.
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VINE VOICEon October 1, 2010
Throughout much of Franzen's FREEDOM, I questioned whether Oprah and the others who gave the book rave reviews had actually read the book.

There is one especially scatological episode that made me want to stop reading and never hear the name Jonathan Franzen again. What is it about bathroom anecdotes, especially the number two variety, that fascinates popular writers such as Stephen King, Garrison Keillor and now Franzen?

I also had problems figuring out what Franzen was trying to say. Was it something about suburban liberals being spoiled? Did it have something to do with the idealized mate not being all that great in reality? There's also some political stuff going on. One of the main characters, Walter Berglund, works for a Texas oil man who wants him to create a West Virginia reserve for the Cerulean Warbler, but he must agree to let the man's company take all the oil, coal, and gas out before the land is restored, ruining the pristine wilderness in the process. Walter himself is not sure that's such a great idea. Walter's wife, Patty, is an ex-basketball University of Minnesota basketball star, who is depressed because she thinks she may have married the wrong man. Richard Katz is an avant-garde musician who was Walter's roommate in college. Walter also has an East Indian assistant who makes it difficult for him to remain true to Patty.

Walter and Patty also have two kids, one of whom, Joey, goes to work for a conservative think tank. He has a chance to make a bundle if he's willing to spend his girlfriend Connie's inheritance on obsolete truck parts to be used in Iraq. Patty thinks Connie is trailer park all the way, and Joey seems to be using Connie.

What saved the day for me was the absolutely perfect ending. It has to do with a cat named Bobby who is a killing machine (According to Walter, 350 million songbirds are murdered by domestic cats every year in the United State) and an evangelical woman who will remind you of Michelle Bachmann, until she meets Patty.
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on May 23, 2014
Things being relative, and The Corrections being the more perfectly realized effort, the ironically titled Freedom must be rated a shade lower. That said, Franzen pretty much owns the family saga at this point. Like many other readers, I was not enthralled by Patty Berglund's lengthy and somewhat improbable treatise early in the book. Franzen's unappealing characters are typically redeemed by subversive humor, but it didn't work w her, at least not for this reader. By midpoint, momentum builds -- hang in there -- as the plot thickens and characters crash and burn, in one case literally. It must be noted: Richard Katz is a towering creation. Seemed to me the book was less "about" freedom than the shared quality of Franzen's beloved migratory birds and his cast of characters, who embark on harrowing journeys and ultimately limp, in most cases, back to their places of origin. The one sure takeaway: Franzen, a noted birder and bird lover, hates cats, and in Freedom, cats and birds are personified.
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on February 25, 2012

A long time ago, when I was reading everything I could about the Ancient Egyptians, I read somewhere that they had invented graph paper so that they could ensure that their wall art and engineering works were as precise as possible (bear with me). According to my source, they were positively obsessed with having everything be in its proper proportions. And that's the feeling I got when I read "Freedom". I felt like Mr. Franzen had plotted each and every character on his or her own piece of graph paper, leading to a very precise enumeration of said character, but one in which the character did not have any room to breathe. And I also felt that he had done the same thing with the story. And, yes, as other reviewers have said (especially the ones giving the book 1 star), there are a lot of improbable elements in the book, giving it a "John Irvingish" tinge, but that still does not mean, as far as I am concerned, that there is anything truly spontaneous in this book. Now, don't get me wrong. I am very, very partial to "world building" science fiction books, and books with lots of back story, and you can dump your info-dumps on me any time, but I still like to read a book that seems to be alive and breathing. I kept reading because all the detail was fascinating to me, so much so in fact that I felt like a sort of voyeur. That's when I didn't feel like I was reading the writing of a professional gossip. I kept on reading even though the book felt as stiff and lifeless as one of those Egyptian tomb paintings, because I wanted to see what weird thing was coming up around the next bend - I guess for the same reason that people rubberneck a roadside accident scene. I kept reading even though I really did not care about any of the characters and what was going to happen to them. In the end, even with all the details of the plot and of the main character's personal lives, I was left knowing very little about why any of them did the things they wound up doing. In short, I think the book is well-written on a technical level, but does not really hang together as a novel. There is just a total lack of feeling there.


P.S. I could not feel any liking or empathy for any of the main characters, all of whom, with the exception of Richard and Lalitha, basically seemed to be dishonest and/or dislikeable in so may different ways. I liked Richard because "what you saw was what you got" - there was no real hypocrisy there. I did not know what to make of Lalitha - I did not get a good feel from the author about what motivated her, but I also that that "what you saw was what you got". Connie was a cipher - I don't know what Joey saw in her, and the author does not communicate this.
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on May 25, 2011
Patty and Walter Berglund, dedicated Democrats and devoted parents, seem to have the perfect suburban lifestyle: a nice house, two kids, and a bright outlook on the future. But all is not well in the Berglund household. After relations with their right-wing neighbors, the Monaghans, go sour, Patty and Walter are dismayed when their rebellious son, Joey--who is dating the Monaghans' daughter--allies himself with the Republican cause and moves in next door. This act of filial defiance causes long-buried regrets to appear and threatens to destroy Patty and Walter's marriage. Franzen's intriguing portrait of the Berglund clan explores concepts of personal freedoms, marriage, and family in a post-9/11 America. A well-written novel that manages to be both comic and tragic at the same time, Freedom is not without its flaws. This otherwise enlightening story is marred by its gratuitous and unnecessary descriptions of sexual acts, including a rather graphic sex phone conversation between Joey and his girlfriend. This aside, the Berglunds' story is a very human one that will appeal to left- and right-wingers alike.
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on December 22, 2015
I was not a fan of The Corrections and would not have read this one had I not been urged to do so by a wonderfully smart friend. I was reluctant but from the first page I was hooked. Franzen got everything right in this book. It is interesting, intriguing, fascinating and absolutely brilliant. Walter, Patty, And Richard are deeply nuanced characters and I loved getting to know them. Pick this one up, you will not be sorry
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