You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Jonathan Franzen's Freedom was on a lot of 2010 best books lists. It is a complex novel about a simple story. The story at the core is a love triangle. The center of the triangle is Patty, a woman who is strongly attracted to the musician and womanizer Richard Katz. Richard doesn't feel much for Patty but he has strong admiration and affection for his roommate Walter Berglund. Walter has noble ideals and sees in Patty something that she doesn't recognize in herself. In many ways, Walter is in love with an ideal of Patty, or perhaps he sees who she could be. His desire for her is strong enough to pull her to him, but only after Richard rejects her (knowing of Walter's feelings).

Walter convinces Patty to marry him, and the three of them ease into a relationship. Richard spends most of his time in New York or New Jersey while the Berglunds create a family in Minnesota. Walter is hurt by Richard's long absences, but Patty understands. Walter builds a successful career and manages to improve his life over that of his parents.

One of the themes in the book is the mistakes that parents make and how we try to avoid those mistakes while making completely new ones. Patty felt ostracized by her family, to the point where she hardly had anything to do with them after marrying Walter. So she smothers her children with love and attention, especially their son Joey. But Patty feels betrayed when Joey gets involved with their teenage neighbor, because she resents the girl's parents. Joey rebels against his parents and becomes a Republican.

Walter was the victim of his abusive alcoholic father and his mother would would not stand up for herself or for him. This is crystallized in the lake house that his mother inherits and his father wants to sell in order to pay off debts. When Walter can't convince his parents to fix it up, he decides to move there himself for the summer and fix it up. However, he is betrayed when his useless older brother shows up with the news that their parents are letting him "rent" the house. Walter has to give him the house and the peace that he enjoyed there.

The house remains central to Walter's life as he fixes it up when the brother leaves. The pivotal section is when Richard spends a summer there fixing it up and writing songs. When Walter heads home and leaves Patty there with Richard, they are faced with their old emotions again.

The parents' relationship is mirrored by Joey, who treats his girlfriend Connie like crap even though she is completely devoted to him. Like Walter, Connie is completely devoted to the love of her life; like Patty, she is depressed. Joey is worse to Connie that Patty is to her husband; he sleeps with several women at college while stringing her along.

The novel dramatizes the characters in depth, even going back to Patty and Walter's grandparents to illustrate the personalities that affected them through the generations. The plot thickens with Walter's and Joey's jobs, with both of them facing moral crises at the same time. The tension builds when Richard visits to discuss working with Walter, Walter's assistant making her feelings clear, and Joey calling his father for ethical advice. Somehow it all comes together for Walter, and in a few days his life has changed dramatically. The reader can really sense Walter's love and pain. But at the same time we can feel Patty's longing for her true love, something more than the admiration she feels for Walter. Somehow all together, the three of them combine with the elements of a complete relationship. A-

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