By Colin Marston ’13
In recent times the word freedom has become substantially meaningless.
Freedom to marry.
Freedom for the free market.
Freedom from unfettered capitalism.
Contradictions have become a basic component of our society, the white and black pictures of American exceptionalism, USSR vs. US, and the supposedly universal American Dream all fading into thoughts of yesterday.
As we as a country leave the unipolar world our parents and grandparents inhabited, occupy ominous economic hardships, see a deterioration of civil liberties at home and live with imperial skirmishes afar, everything feels to be in a mess.
Chronicling the challenges of the post-9/11 world, the Berglund family presents a candid capture onto American life, love and loss in the 2010 book “Freedom” by Jonathen Franzen.
The story consists of a realist portrayal of the Berglunds starting around the invasion of Iraq and the book ending somewhere around the 2008 elections, with hundreds of pages between devoted to autobiographies of Patty and Walter, the mother and father of the family.
Franzen succeeds remarkably at creating multi-faceted, complex characters whom you cheer for in moments of bliss, and languish in bitter agony when difficulties strike.
And the problems they face are immense: infinite infidelity, family breakdowns (to the point where their precocious son Joey moves in with the neighbors), isolation, meaningless, abrasive coal mining to save a bird (yes only one bird species: the Warbler), and even war crimes.
Patty and Walter’s marriage is constantly marred by their need to find comfort out of fear of mutual loneliness, resulting in the spontaneous, intense relations Patty shares with Richard Katz, Walter’s punk roommate from college, and Walter’s affair with Lalitha, his assistant.
Though the confinement of the novel can get a little stuffy, (besides Lalitha, all the main characters are American, white, affluent, with most consumed by sex, love affairs, and relationships) the stark light it holds to illuminate a society consumed by illusions is a breathtaking accomplishment.
“Freedom” has been on the New York Times best seller list for the past 15 weeks, and can be found at any major book retailer.