Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Just read Freedom

This book threw me off my game. I usually devour books in a week, ten days at most. But Freedom has taken weeks. Weeks. I tend to give up on any book that takes this long to read.

It's an interesting read, overall. The plots are woven together cleverly, and his decision to start with the ending and work his way back echoes throughout the book via the shameless use of backstory. In parts, it's sanctimonious and preachy, peppered with pithy philosophies and liberal idealism, and manages to be both stirring and melancholy. He beats us over the head with metaphors and symbols - birds, the word 'lift', depression, environmentalism, overpopulation, the New York Times - yet somehow I didn't throw the book across the room.

Franzen breaks every rule of writing. He tells, rather than shows. He boasts such eclectic bits of knowledge that the reader is keenly aware of the huge amount of research that went into this book. He depends heavily on flashbacks. His minor characters have similar-sounding names and characteristics and I often got them mixed up. He even includes a character called Jonathan, which I found rather odd - though I've never really noticed if other authors include characters with their own names. He uses various literary devices to help tell his story - a journal (yawn), song lyrics, speeches, newspaper articles - all glaringly obvious.

Yet I had to finish it.

Writing often ruins reading. Writers are keyed in to the way a story is told, and I tried to figure out what it was about Franzen's writing that had me hooked from the first page. His omniscient narrator knew too much, but somehow it worked. The main characters were perfectly flawed, and their two-faced, selfish nature evoked irritation and sympathy. He's played on the dualities of us as humans and us as readers to suck us into his world of upper-middle-class America. Yes, read it, if you've got time to dive into a 562-page tome.

I'm including both covers here. The chapter titles of my UK edition (below) are printed in the same tilted font as on the cover of the US edition (above). The bird on the US edition echoes the metaphor of birds throughout the novel; interesting that the bird is represented by a feather on the UK edition. This book would have sold with nothing on the cover, but I still find it interesting how differently books are marketed in the US and UK.

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