Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections and Freedom

I read both of Franzen’s latest novels one right after the other, like two scoops of too-rich ice cream. They are remarkable books and he is a remarkable writer. In other words, all those other reviewers that praise him to the point of embarrassing themselves are correct. And I just might do the same.
Freedom, the most recent novel, focuses on a married couple and their children. The novel shifts perspective throughout, bringing the reader into the minds of Patty and Walter, and then Joey, their son. The novel touches on others, but these three, plus Walter’s best friend, RIchard, also features as one of the mains. The Corrections, written a decade ago, also focuses on a single family, but the span is broader, not in time, but in character, relying on narratives from both parents and three grown children. While Freedom tends to expand on larger themes like population growth and the war in Iraq, The Corrections, despite one brief foray into Eastern Europe (a true “hub-a-what? segment) stays grounded in good old midwestern versus non-midwestern, small town versus big city American life. The writing is among the best I have ever read. Franzen’s insight into human behavior, particularly family behavior, is as sharp as it gets. His characters can, at times, seem overly self-absorbed, but that’s part of the ironic charm of reading Franzen. His characters are flawed and odd and sometimes despair (although the theme of men being depressed seems to run clearly through both books—depressed by what exactly? the banality of their lives? or having everything and not knowing what to want next?) and sometimes bright and loving but always human. Of the two books, I still think The Corrections is the strongest—or maybe it’s just the one that I could identify with more easily. Read Franzen, read him now. He really is one of the greatest American novelists.

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