Thursday, April 7, 2011

by Jonathan Franzen

Do you guys have any books that you just dread reading? I had firmly decided not to read this. I read Franzen’s first book, The Corrections, and I hated it. The characters were selfish and whiny and it just wasn’t for me. Then there’s all the drama about the author himself being a self-important jerk who is too good for his readers. All-in-all I was just left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Then Freedom was released and everyone had Franzen fever again. The hype was overwhelming, everyone, and their great-grandma and best friends, etc. was reading the book and everyone had an opinion. I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to read it.
Then my book club chose it and… well I had to read it.

So, about 100 pages in and I was actually enjoying it. Patty and Walter Berglund live a suburban life with their kids in a small community. The story delves into Patty’s adolescence and college years where she grew up with distant parents. Now she’s overly attentive to her son Joey and he lacks discipline.

I found Patty and Walter’s story fascinating, but once we got to their son Joey’s section, I lost interest. It was all sex, masturbation, selfish behavior and callous indifference. Joey is cavalier about committing adultery, but completely disgusted when someone cheats on him. His strange double-standards were disgusting after awhile.

The characters are exhausting. I don’t want to read about a long argument between neighbors discussing whether or not they should let their cat play outside. I realize that real life is made up of that frustrating minutia, but that’s exactly why I don’t want to read it. If I loved the characters or was rooting for them, maybe I would care, but there’s something about the people Franzen creates that always leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. They are always selfish and self-righteous, a bad combination. Even when one of them is taking advantage of another, I can’t feel bad for either because they deserve each other.

Bottom line, if you liked/loved The Corrections I truly think you’d like this one. I think it is a more mature book in some ways. If on the other hand you didn’t like The Corrections or haven’t read it, I don’t recommend this. I didn’t like it and it will definitely be my last attempt at Franzen. This was round three (How To Be Alone was #1) and really that is plenty of chances. He’s just not for me.

“Injustice had a shape, and a temperature and a texture and a very bad taste.”

** One thing that was an interesting coincidence, the book talks about War & Peace multiple times and because I read it earlier this year I understood the references. It’s funny how it works out that way sometimes.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Oh no, sorry you did not like this one. I enjoyed the audio.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I don't know if you read my review for this one, but I'm chuckling because I had to read it for book club too. And we universally (except for the guy that pushed the book in the first place) hated it. The characters are miserable, and they made me feel slimy. The audio/narrator did a great job, but I couldn't get past these awful, self-absorbed characters.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Diane - You're definitely not in the minority!

Sandy - Ha, that's hilarious. Slimy, exactly, I felt the same way. I agree the narrator did a wonderful job, it was the material, not him, that made it awful.

Tasha said...

Moby Dick is the book I dread reading. As for Freedom, I might skip it, as I was not a fan of The Corrections. Sandy Nawrot up there mentioned that the characters in Freedom made her feel slimy, which is exactly how I felt about the characters in The Corrections. I wanted to take a long, cold shower after reading that book.

Kristi said...

Sorry you didn't like it. I read The Corrections a couple of months ago. I expected to hate it, but I ended up really enjoying it despite the unlikable characters. Maybe it was because my expectations were so low. It's definitely a book that makes you uncomfortable at times. The characters are pretty screwed up. It sounds like Freedom is pretty similar.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Charley - Run, do not walk, away from this one. That's exactly how I felt about The Corrections and this was just more of the same.

Kristi - You might like this one, but maybe keep the expectations low again.

Jenners said...

I started out unsure WHAT I thought but I ended up really liking this and found myself crying at the end. I can see why a lot of people don't likenhis stuff though. There is something very difficult to love about his books.

Monica said...

I tend to steer clear of over-hyped books, but what can you do when the bookclub chooses it? I think you've been more than fair with 3 of his.

I won't be adding this to my tbr list, your review was the convincer.

B said...

Ok so I didn't read either and if I do chose to try Franzen I will start with Freedom but to be honest I'm just not sure I want to succumb to the hype. Maybe someday but I can't see myself picking it up anytime soon.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - There is, but if you end up liking it, I'm sure it's rewarding.

Monica - I know, that's the tricky part about book clubs.

Brenna - Maybe someday down the road when the hype isn't an issue. I did like Freedom more than The Corrections, but that isn't saying much.

Swapna said...

I want to read it in theory, but I don't think I'll ever put that into practice. The fact that you say the characters are exhausting really makes me go UGH.

BookQuoter said...

Sorry it didn't work for you. I did like it, too, especially the last third of the book.

Amanda said...


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Swapna - There are too many great books out there.

BookQuoter - I'm glad it worked for you!

mari said...

Interesting. My book club chose this one and I have to read as much as I can before this coming Sunday. I'm not sure why but I'm not really looking forward to it. But I will give it a try...sigh. Interesting review.

Teacher/Learner said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way! Dysfunctional families can make for good novels but this was too much.

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