In The Media
December 06, 2010
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More About Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; David LedouxOverviewFrom the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a darkly comedic novel about family. Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul-the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter-environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man-she was doing her small part to build a better world. But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz-outre rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival-still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become "a very different kind of neighbor," an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes? In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's intensely realized characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-09-27
- Reviewer: Staff
When Patty and Walter Berglund's teenage son moves in with their conservative neighbors and their perfect life in St. Paul begins to unravel, out spill family secrets--clandestine loves, lies, compromises, failures. David Ledoux's masterly narration is powerful and well paced, comic and poignant. He expertly captures Walter and Patty--with her anxious whinny of a laugh--and their family life with its satisfactions and histrionics. Ledoux also deftly renders the gossiping of the Berglund's disingenuous neighbors; the frenetic rants of the drug-addled Eliza; and the weary, disaffected drawl of sleazy musician Richard. A Farrar, Straus, and Giroux hardcover (Reviews, July 5). (Sept.)BookPage Reviews
Where does it hurt?
People suffer from pain and always have; it is our mortal condition. For millennia, pain was a “spiritual signifier” blamed on spirits, deities and demons, or on bad deeds committed in this life or a former one. As recently as the mid-19th century, when surgical anesthesia was introduced, it was thought by many to “prevent men from going through what God intended.” Pain, its causes, its remedies, its effects on body and soul, has always perplexed us—and now it’s impelled Melanie Thernstrom to write The Pain Chronicles, narrated in salutary style by Laural Merlington. Unfortunately for her, Thernstrom comes to the subject as someone who’s had to deal firsthand with chronic pain, and she weaves her own story and her “pain diary” into her elegantly presented, wide-ranging research, which includes history, religion, biology, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and intriguing observations on pain from the Bhagavad Gita, Heidegger, Susan Sontag and more. In Thernstrom’s accomplished hands, the nature of chronic pain becomes compelling and engaging listening—and it doesn’t hurt a bit.
Howard Norman’s quiet but intensely affecting novel, What is Left the Daughter, is written as a long and long-overdue letter from a father to his 21-year-old daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a toddler. The reasons for Wyatt Hilyer’s decades of silence become clear as he pours out a story punctuated with suicide and murder, but shaped and misshaped by an enduring love. In 1941, when Wyatt was 17, his mother and father, discovering they were both in love with the same woman, leapt from separate bridges in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the same day. Orphaned, he moved in with his aunt and uncle and fell madly in love with their adopted daughter, Tilda, who in turn fell madly and resolutely in love with a German student. But the world was at war; fear, anger and dismay were rampant and perceptions off-kilter, sometimes with devastating results, even in small-town Canada. There’s never any self-pity in Wyatt’s voice as he recounts his life, but rather a stoic, world-worn acceptance of unexamined choices, loss and, perhaps now, a slow crawl to redemption. Bronson Pinchot’s finely muted narration captures every nuance of Norman’s atmospheric, subtly shaped tale.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
Jonathan Franzen’s latest, Freedom, is a big, brilliantly evoked novel that looks at contemporary American life through the fortunes and misfortunes of the Berglund family. It’s too good, too well-crafted to be called a “sweeping saga,” but its scope captures the past decades and teases out the good, the bad and the ugly in marriage and commitment, our polarizing culture wars, our concern—or lack of it—for the environment, our attempts to be socially responsible and our very American obsession with “freedom.” Patty and Walter Berglund, young parents when the book opens, are middle-aged when it ends, the baggage they’ve brought with them—and picked up along the way—unpacked in fascinating detail. Freedom’s strongly articulated characters will draw you in, and David LeDoux’s intelligent performance maintains the right narrative pace throughout.