This is clearly a love-it-or-hate-it novel, if the reviews on Amazon are any indication. Five-star reviews and one-star reviews dominate, in almost equal numbers.
I have never read Franzen before, and in fact was put off by all the hype surrounding his earlier work. I read a particularly devastating review of this book in the Atlantic Monthly (“The Case Against Jonathan Franzen”), so even before picking this up I had a negative impression. I got the book from the library out of curiosity, expecting that I would browse through a few pages, be bored out of my wits, and return the book forthwith.
However, I was hooked from the very first page and found it almost impossible to put down. Franzen’s writing satisfies on many levels, but as a pure storyteller who can make a character come to throbbing, pulsating, three-dimensional life in a few sentences, he knows no peer. He reminds me a little of T. C. Boyle, without the obscure vocabulary.
If there is a weakness here, it’s that there is not a dramatic plot as such. It’s more a slice-of-life study of a family and a straightforward love triangle, but it’s not easy to say exactly what the book is “about.” Like many great works of art, what it’s about will ultimately be in the perception of the reader.
Most of the negative reviews found the characters to be unlikeable, which surprises me; they all have serious problems, but I felt sympathy for almost all of them. As to whether they are believable, suffice it to say that Franzen’s storytelling spell is so complete that I suspended any disbelief and surrendered to the story. And that’s what good fiction requires: suspension of disbelief.
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Amazon.com: Freedom: A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club): Jonathan …