Posted by: Jeanie F | September 10, 2010

5 Reasons to Read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I’ve been trying all week to write a review of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom. The problem is that it has been reviewed so fervently, there’s really little to say that hasn’t been said. It – and its author – have drawn rave reviews in just about every major venue.

  • In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani raves, ” With this book, [Franzen’s] not only created an unforgettable family, he’s also completed his own transformation from a sharp-elbowed, apocalyptic satirist focused on sending up the socio-economic-political plight of this country into a kind of 19th-century realist concerned with the public and private lives of his characters.”
  • Just days later, in the same publication, Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus calls it “a masterpiece of American fiction.”
  • Time Magazine featured Franzen on its cover (the first novelist since Stephen King to grace that hallowed space more than ten years ago), and Time book critic, Lev Grossman, says, “Franzen isn’t the richest or most famous living American novelist, but you could argue — I would argue — that he is the most ambitious and also one of the best.”
  • Maureen Corrigan on NPR’s “Fresh Air” says, “There’s not one throwaway scene in Freedom and, yet, for all that effort, nothing feels overwritten or false.  Like The Corrections, Freedom celebrates and extends the possibilities of the good old realist novel — at a time when realism is out of fashion, even in autobiography.  Franzen makes us skeptical post-moderns believe again, if only for a space, that literature really can and should hold a mirror up to the world.”
  • There’s a GREAT (and funny) video review by Ron Charles for the Washington Post at

There doesn’t seem to be much left to tell you other than some of the reasons that I would recommend this book to anyone who asks.  So here are my


5 – It  is eminently readable. The voice, the characters, the plot work so well that I was drawn in from the first page and never lost interest. Franzen writes with clear prose that is literary without being overblown.

4 – It is timely and topical. You’ll know the people – maybe you are the people – that you encounter in this book. Unlike Franzen’s last novel, The Corrections, in which the characters leaned toward the grotesque, in Freedom you find real people facing realistic situations. You understand, if not always agree with, their actions and motivations.

3 – Franzen does a fine job of exploring the aspects of the theme. We see the consequences, both positive and negative, of exercising free will, of living the American promise.

2 – The book is insightful and will cause you to pause and think about the veracity of what you have read. Franzen nails the American temperament in statements such as, “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.” I couldn’t help but think that this is a great explanation for the Tea Party movement.

1 – It will stay with you long after you finish the last page. As you pick up a newspaper or tune in to a talk show, you’ll hear the echo of Franzen’s characters, their actions, and the consequences. It may be, as many reviewers have said, the defining novel of the first decade of the 21st Century.

Grade: A


  1. I’m looking forward to reading this! Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  2. This book is on my ‘to read-list’ and your reasons why one should read it only adds to me wanting to get it as soon as possible. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Nearing the end (page 497) of “Freedom”, soon I too will be faced with the daunting task of writing a review of the book. I like the way you handled it. I think you could even write another entry dealing with the specifics of the story.

    • Tony, I’ll look forward to reading your review!

  4. Freedom sounds like a must read.

    I have an award for you. You can pick it up here.


  5. Your review is a persuasive recommendation, I’m going to take another look at Freedom, I can’t remember why I passed it up before. 😀

    • I’m always a little wary of books that are hyped as much as this one was. In this case, I felt the hype was warranted – I’ll be interested to hear what you decide!

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