Book Review: Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom'

Author Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out called Freedom. After the acclaim received by his earlier novel, The Corrections, this book is eagerly anticipated.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Nearly a decade after publishing his prize-winning novel "The Corrections," Jonathan Franzen is bringing out a new work of fiction, a novel called "Freedom." Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Readers have a lot of high hope for this one, and there's even some thievery going on: I couldnt set my reading copy down on a table at my local coffee bar without someone walking off with it while I put in my order. It could be the title, too: "Freedom."

Franzen tells the story of a deteriorating middle class family in Minnesota. The mom, Patty, is a former college athlete, a sort of basketball Emma Bovary who suffers from deep depression and a long unrequited longing for her husbands best friend from college, a successful rock 'n' roller named Rick Katz.

The husband, Walter, is a naive corporate do-gooder, oblivious to his wifes pain and his own. Their son Joey finds life more appealing in the house next door and he moves in with the neighbors, beginning an affair with their teenage daughter that extends throughout the entire novel.

Franzen tells this story in a form thats rather odd, marked by long sequences of exposition and a long middle section written by Patty for her therapist, which she composes in the third person.

Also odd is the depth of Franzens brilliance. There isnt a page that goes by without insights you can mull over and sentences you can admire.

Listen to this one, when Joey is waiting for his girl at New York's Port Authority bus station and finds that it was: as if all the low-income travelers flowing around the two of them were equipped with brightness and color controls that were radically lowered by the mere presence of this girl hed known forever.

You find this everywhere, on every page. Yes, sometimes the book seems like smart poetry, made up out of the millions of seemingly innocuous details of every-day life.

But, forgive me, despite the brilliance, or maybe even because of it, I found the novel quite unappealing, maybe because every line, every insight, seems covered with a light film of disdain. Franzen seems never to have met a normal, decent, struggling human being whom he didnt want to make us feel ever so slightly superior to. His book just has too much brightness and not enough color.

BLOCK: That's Alan Cheuse, reviewing Jonathan Franzen's new novel, "Freedom." Alan teaches writing at George Mason University in Virginia.

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