Freedom, Jonathan Franzen | Review

With the exception of the collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen The end of the end of the earth, published this year, David Foster Wallace's friend has us abandoned in a bad way (it's been four years since the launch of Purity). At Postposmo we have decided to look back and remember as it deserves the great novel that catapulted Jonathan Franzen to the step of the greats: Freedom (2012). A novel in which he perfected the success formula of The Corrections (2001), also repeating it for his most recent novel, Purity (2015)

? Review and summary of Franzen's Freedom

Before the cover on Time with the long-suffering Jonathan Franzen Great American Novelist, before find out that Barack Obama was allowed to read Libertad by Franzen when it wasn't even in stores yet, and of course, long before the expression “voice of a generation” declined, became popular, and declined again, before all that, Jonathan Franzen was already invented. And if it is still valid it is only because it works. In the end, we are talking about the major literary genre. Pure, hard and constant realism.

The encapsulation of an era, the portrait of domestic and national miseries (we will limit this review to the scope of the United States) through the faithful narration of everyday life is, and will be, for reasons of force majeure, the Theme.

Until the arrival of the holy day in which we all end up being bombarded (or infected with Coronavirus), the passage of time will continue to shape our environment with new epics and disappointments so that people like John Dos Passos (spectacular ManhattanTransfer), John SteinbeckWilliam Faulkner, or more recently Don Dellillo y Philip Roth, can continue to capture its highlights and nuances and lock them forever inside a book.

In Libertad Franzen tells us, from childhood to maturity, the trajectory of four people who are visited by success and misfortune at different times in life

It's hard to know if Jonathan Franzen's books will last forever. If Freedom will be forever. Complex to determine if we are facing the new Roth (of course, by catalog volume, the answer is no). Nor is Postposmo a website where matters as murky and romantic as that of categorizations for posterity are settled. That's a thing of the Harold Blooms (y  Tongoys) shift.

But we do know that Libertad offers an entertaining reading, of quality and on a par with the enormous expectations that David Foster Wallace's friend generated (and generated) here in his day. Taking into account what has been said and, above all, the large repertoire of clichés and commonplaces made in USA that unfolds throughout the novel, it is worth explaining what makes the novel unique. Libertad by Jonathan Franken.

? Portrait of the mood of a nation

Several of the backbone elements of the peculiar Libertad by Jonathan Franzen already meet in the American pastoral de Philip Roth, published in 1997:

  • Prosperous and comfortable life in a garden house
  • Marriage in the phase of demolition, problematic son and father of a straight and honest family.
  • Characters committed (to sick ends) with the state of mind of a country.

It is interesting to analyze how Walter, the head of the family from Freedom, to Swedish (character) by Roth.

Both are individuals who, once they reached the top, the supposed arrival at the goal, have been honorary witnesses of the collapse of their lives. Under this premise, Franzen expands the focus and introduces the concept of freedom into the equation, an essential word to understand the politics, economy and morality of the United States since its foundation and, even more so, since the terrorist attacks of 11-S. At times, Franzen perhaps shows too much where the shots are going, as on page 222:

“Every day he had the whole day to conceive of an acceptable and satisfying way to live, and yet the only thing he seemed to get out of all his options and all his freedom was more misery. The autobiographer is almost forced to draw the conclusion that she felt sorry for herself for being so free.”

Using a chaotic temporal structure dominated by anecdotal chapter separation and an autobiographical text written by Patty (a mother of a family suffering from severe depression) that opens and closes the novel, Jonathan Franzen tells us, from childhood to adulthood, the trajectory of four people who are visited by success and misfortune at different times in life to, in the end, end up all just as miserable and sad.

This is more or less the central idea of ​​the book: no matter what money and possessions you have, you have the same ballots as the rest to end up miserable and sad.

? Jonathan Franzen vs USA

Seated these bases, Franzen makes a triple somersault and uses the extrapolation of family drama to draw us a very broad panorama of the state of mind of an entire nation. That if we have problems with the neighbors, that if it really suits us to stop being friends with that family of Democrats who can help us so much in our ambitions, that if the boy is now doing business with the Republicans, those evil ones, selling them Polish trucks poor that they then send to Iraq.

Dilemmas, in short, in which the border between allies and enemies is blurred, where sometimes the principles of a person are redefined, sometimes even the borders of their dignity, in order to achieve personal benefit.

Franzen told it very well in an interview on Swedish television. He assures that in none of the 20 interviews he was given on his three-week tour of the United States they asked him any questions related to the thorny issue of competitive spirit.

Oh, the competition capitalist totem around which the now decadent United States of America has risen, once the dominant power on the planet. “Nobody wants to talk about it, it's an uncomfortable subject. People want to be nice and it's not nice to think about how much you're willing to beat up your brother." Minute 6.

? Freedom: Jonathan Franzen is pure politics

The bug on the cover (a Cerulean Warbler) alludes to the project of Walter, a Democratic lawyer and environmentalist, to build a protected reserve for a hundred years to prevent its extinction and for which he has to ally himself with la CorporateAmerica Republican of Cheney and Bush (but mostly from Dick, let's remember the movie Vice) , which will only cede the land once it has been blown up and emptied of coal.

The book is pure politics. And not just for the generous portion of after-dinner talks, but because there are characters whose mood changes for the better, for example, when "their country once again takes hold of the helm of history" (p.475).

Characters like the rock star to whom the sight of "a white couple in their early twenties, both dressed in white T-shirts and eating white ice cream" reminds him of the "Bush regime" (p. 420). OR a character who remembers Bill Clinton when they give him a blowjob. I quote omitting character names:

 "Just a second," she persevered as she opened his fly, "Please, X.
X thought of Clinton and Lewinski, and then, seeing his assistant's mouth full of his flesh and the smile in his eyes, he thought of his evil friend's prophecy.

Franken and Obama

If there is a bad guy in this book, apart from the debauchery and conscience of each of the characters, that is George W. Bush and everything he represents. Freedom is the typical book that would be read and advertised, what do I know, Barack Obama (in fact, he did).

Although the plot focuses on the life of a family of Democratic fanatics, the matter is too flashy: those of the elephant are behind almost everything bad that happens to the Berglund family while of guys like Al Gore it is literally said that “he was too good a person to play dirty in Florida”.

without being vulgar, the style is not exactly striking or very elaborate and responds more to the premise of making the book an artifact that runs smoothly and free of roughness. There is a certain excess of trademarks and names of musical groups, film actors, etc. Lots of iPads, Ted's and Coca-Cola that clearly denote the intention of reflecting a very specific time with a very specific popular culture.

Typical humor of Franzen's books

Special mention deserves the already classic humor of Franzen's books.

A series of phrases full of wit (not really) that visit the reader when he least expects it. Here's a scene where the troublesome teen puts a ring in his mouth: “The hardness of eighteen-karat gold was amazing. Joey would have said gold was a soft metal."

There is also some abuse of the word "literally". The only scene in which the truth would not have been lacking is the one in which he precisely fitted well, without the need for that “almost”: (Page 558) ”… Manolita was really crazy about him, she was almost literally dripping with desire It certainly oozed profusely."

Yes. Of course, the book has its moments.

The variety of topics addressed in this complex literary architectural work is overwhelming and it is unfair that everything is summed up with the refrain that it is an allegation against what we mistakenly call happiness and freedom. There is room to reflect on friendship, child-parent relationships, hypocrisy in American politics, God, Iraq, the unstoppable growth of the world population, alcoholism, new technologies. birds. Franzen has tried to capture as many of the everyday elements of the typical American middle-class family as possible to sum up a country and a time. Time will tell if it turned out well.

Jonathan FranzenLiberty
Salamander, Barcelona, ​​2011
672 pages | 23 euros

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