Republican vs. Democrat? The book follows the life of a Minnesota family, the Berglunds, who live in a beautiful Victorian mansion with their two children Joey and Jessica. Patty, the mom, born into a democratic family of high aristocratic name and power from New York, has one great ambition in life— being a mother and an overbearing, fastidious, and indulging one to her son, Joey, she is. Patty isn’t your Sarah Palin type who adores big game hunting, hockey and DWTS.
She has always had a crush on some rakish guy named Richard, who is a little like Edward from Twilight. He’s irresistible and a rock star who writes her a lonely song about a Nameless Lake. Richard and Patty have a long history together since college. Patty, who is a little on the naïve side, once thought that her best friend, Eliza, had leukemia, and that she couldn’t get past this Richard guy. Patty got stuck in her fantasy world despite the fact she liked Walter, the Jacob type character, who is a Mr. Nice-Guy-Of-Sorts without becoming a wolf. She married him just because he was the right and safe choice and maybe she could find freedom in choosing whom she wanted.
Well, life isn’t that simple for the Berglunds. Patty’s son, Joey, who she dotes, decides to move in with her next door neighbor and her daughter who happens to be his new girlfriend. They are a step under the snobbish Berglunds with their kick ass monster truck and tree cutting mania. This strange living arrangement infuriates Patty who goes AWOL and slashes tires. She goes into some deep state of depression and writes this third person autobiography of how her life had sucked from her times growing up in New York to her marriage. She recognizes that Walter and Richard have maintained a bromance throughout the years and she thinks that perhaps the man she had a crush on all this years might be a homosexual. But it turns out that he’s not, he’s like Edward and all she really wanted was sex (he’s hot and broodingly handsome.) But Richard wanted intimacy something, which he wishes he could have with Patty but knows he will never achieve. To top it off, Richard is disappointed in himself for having an affair with Patty. The whole fiasco leads to Franzen explaining it in terms of War and Peace which is great since he gives you a summary and saves you time from reading this Tolstoy novel. This is great since you can be reading Eclipse or Breaking Dawn instead.
He goes out writes a hit song and is the center of attention for Nameless Lake. He is even nominated for a Grammy. Richard loses it all to drugs, rock’n roll, and sex. After his DWI and when Bush II takes over, he decides do redeem himself in the Protestant ethic and become a Republican as if this were less expensive than rehab. By now, he’s a good subject for VH-1’s Behind the Music, but winds up being interviewed by some high school dude who can’t believe this star is building his parent’s deck in NYC. He accepts the interview and has a tingling, a craving, of going back to his old Keith Richard ways.
Meanwhile, Walter’s marriage with Patty is not going well but he is somewhat to blame. He is never at home trying to save some songbird and he also created some interesting living arrangements with some spicy Indian girl named Lalitha, his assistant, who uses the communal kitchen bumping into his wife who simply ignores her back. Lalitha idolizes Walter and you think by now that there might be a steamy affair, but it’s Walter that we are talking about.
The whole book is an ambitious project, which duly merits the Oprah Book Club stamp on it. Freedom is about middle-aged life in Middle America and how these characters can be woven into the pathos of modern society. Too deep? It’s about extremes and finding political middle ground while finding yourself in society.
Oprah thinks it’s the best book ever.
She will present Jonathan Franzen in her upcoming show Dec. 6, 2010.