Book Review: Freedom

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen.

Accomplished, funny, but problematic: Freedom is like being in the kitchen with an endlessly entertaining friend you wish would go home. This story of the Berglund family and their friend Richard Katz opens and closes in omniscient POV but is primarily in third person limited, rotating among three of the Berglunds (Patty, Joe and Walter) and Richard. For me the problem lies in pages 290-344, in Walter’s POV, where Franzen jeopardizes my connection to the characters by over-burdening the narrative with commentary on America’s financial and environmental crises.

Thus proving once again that there’s no perfect novel. Except maybe Death in Venice! Okay, thus proving that perfection is a subjective value, thus raising into question whether someone–highly trained, experienced and keen-eyed though they might be–is capable of judging someone else’s work. An interesting question, and it’s been covered before. Are pianists expected to play Bach without teachers? No. Did Picasso study art? Yes. What does this have to do with editing? I’m not sure, really. This is supposed to be a book review. But I’ll go there anyway: editing is a form of teaching, and all writers benefit from learning what works and what doesn’t work for their particular story, from a professional reader’s perspective. Which of course is exactly what I do all day. Ha ha. I’m not “judging,” exactly. I’m asking questions, identifying problems, and suggesting improvements.

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