Darling and I both wondered if Franzen's work was as good as his reputation. I've yet to read The Corrections but Freedom, we both agree, is an outstanding work of contemporary fiction. Freedom is bold in its contemporary depictions of family life and relationships. Franzen (in his writing) is an expert psychologist, his insight into the way people perceive themselves, their lives, their actions, and the way others view them never feels short of spot on. Even the portrayals of the female psyche are arresting in their authenticity. The story is not one of extreme circumstance but rather an all to familiar tale of a family in the 21st century. To recommend a book that encompasses "today" or "what life was like while I was in college" (much of it takes place between 2004-2007) I might point any inquisitor in Franzen's direction. The cultural references, the relevant issues (the war, the environmental movement), it's all there but never feels forced. Instead, it enriches the story and gives a larger context to more fully understand the characters and the circumstances they find themselves in. I would also like to note that after finishing the novel I think the title is perfect. I wasn't keen on "Freedom" originally (as a first impression) but I think, in the end, he got it right. It broke my heart, in the good ways that literature does. It may seem like a large undertaking at 560 some odd pages but I read it in all of 5 days.
One of those "hit the nail on the head" moments (Franzen articulates them so well):
"This was what was keeping me awake at night," Walter said. "This fragmentation. Because it's the same problem everywhere. It's like the internet, or cable TV--there's never any center, there's no communal agreement, there's just a trillion little bits of distracting noise. We can never sit down and have any kind of sustained conversation, it's all just cheap trash and shitty development. All the real things, the authentic things, the honest things are dying off. Intellectually and culturally, we just bounce around like random billiard balls, reacting to the latest random stimuli." (218)
Also, listen to the interview that first really piqued my interest here.
PS. Mrs. Jones, I do a double take every. single. time I hear "Jonathon FranZen"