Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Freedom," Jonathan Franzen

Most present-day American archetypes will see a reflection of themselves somewhere in Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom: A Novel."

And they will most likely cringe.

The author may or may not be the second coming of the greatest American novelist, but he is definitely a good, and most American novelist.

And for sure, he forgoes a place in the classical canon with his frequent pop references and appeals to the current national sensibilities, but Franzen's got a few things to say about the people of the United States and gosh darn if he isn't going to say them.

It reportedly took the author 10 years to write "Freedom," but he was not simply grooming something that was drafted in 2002. He followed the nation's progress, or lack of progress as he seems to suggest, growing his story right up until the financial crisis of 2008.

"Freedom" represents the triumph of a kind of literary reporting. Franzen's people swim in the zeitgeist the way we all do, like it or not.

The novel charts a Midwestern family of four's wade through the 1970s all the way to the aforementioned sub-prime market meltdown with a keen eye on what makes an American throughout the epoch under examination.

This family of his mind's creation, the Berglunds, with the help of their antecedents, siblings and offspring, swim in the current of contemporary events without the author ever seeming to stretch things to fit his scheme.

He comments on our ugly national mood, growing intolerance, gaping inequalities, corruptions, perversion and decadence with irrefutable accuracy, sparing none, right. left, straight, gay, Christian, secular, blue or red.

There is a density to the prose. Some have said the author uses too many words, but if that is the case, it is rarely in useless or neurotic digression. The action moves along all the while employing the kind techniques that separate finer literature from a good potboiler.

And for all the darkness and foreboding Franzen thrusts upon his ample readership, he manages to close on an optimistic note, which, too, makes him very American.

All of it while seemingly riffing an effortless path through his own sentiments, when those in the know will understand how much more went into this fine and worthy work.

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