I hate to admit it, but I was wrong about this novel. I was in good company and a lot of my friends agreed that although we all looked forward to reading Franzen’s 4th novel, we lost our love for it around page 200.
This is a novel both titled and ABOUT Freedom. It’s about being able to choose your work, your politics and your sexual partners. The theme of freedom is rampant throughout this ambitious 562 page novel. But somewhere around page 211, Franzen lost me and a bunch of my friends when he has Walter, the novel’s hero, get caught up in forming a bird sanctuary in Virginia. In my head I said…yada, yada, yada, Franzen, I am done.
I set it aside and wrote my “100 page rule” which basically said that if you don’t like a book you can quit after 100 pages and still be intelligent enough to talk about why you DIDN’T like it. There. Done. Over. Finished with that.
But then a few people started telling me to go back and finish. They agreed that yes there was a part in the middle that was slow but it comes back strong. And of course I had the $28 hardback version of this book on my nightstand staring me down night after night. So one night, I gave in and picked it back up. Exercised my freedom if you will.
This book is about Walter Berglund and his wife Patty and it is set in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a story of a young family making their way through the world. The sexual conflict is that Walter’s best friend Richard Katz, who is of course a rock and roll star and the complete opposite of him, has a thing for his wife. There is a steamy cabin scene where Patty and Richard are discussing their potential affair and Patty is convincing Richard to move forward with the affair as “conceivably the itch would be scratched and that would be that.” Richard replies “not the way it works in my experience.” And so it goes.
But beyond the interesting sexual aspects of the book, the characters deal with their freedom of speech, freedom of religion and Franzen mixes in a mid life crises for Walter at the end of the book.
To be honest, I can see why some people quit reading in the middle but I would suggest to plow through Walter’s bird sanctuary diversion and finish.