Monday, February 21, 2011

Tasty Freedom

The real power of writing is to capture life, in all its complexities. To somehow express in words the absurdities and subtleties of our world today, to convey those human emotions we don't even have words for. To me, a great book or great piece of writing can truly paint the world as it is, as it could be, as we think it is but isn't. It should stagger you with the simplicity of its truth.

One of the best books I have ever read is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I read it last fall after being bombarded by the hype surrounding it. It surpassed my expectations.

Recommending this book is a bit of a tough sell to make. If asked what it's about, all I can really say is that it's a family drama. And that's it. Not much to pull you in. But that's not really what the book is. It's... life. In a book.

The most striking feature of the book was the characters. I am most positive that I have never read such believable characters in my life. Honest to God. That Franzen was able to create these people, bring them into life, people as real you or me- it is an accomplishment and testament to his talent.

It is the story of a family- Patty, the basketball-star turned housewife, directionless in life, married a man she was not attracted to. Her husband, Walter, the do-gooder who only wants to save the world, despite the world's rough treatment of him. Their children. Jessica, so little mentioned I struggled to remember her name (was she not a main character because she was the sole character who seemed to not destroy her life?), and Joey, their fascinatingly complex son with terrifying amounts of ambition, redeemed only by his love for depressive Connie.

I could easily continue to go into the slew of other complicated characters (people) who enrich this novel, but I would run the risk of simply rewriting Franzen's masterpiece, and I would do it no where near as well. (Read it!)

Beyond his intricate and incredible realistic portrayal of the human psyche and human relationships, Franzen beautifully snapshots the world as it is today- who we are, what we do and what the fuck is wrong with us. Our politics, our wars, our heroes, our social disconnect.

And, of course, Freedom. Is it a gift, a responsibility, a burden, a curse? With such endless choices and decisions in life, and the freedom to go any way we choose, are we liberated or weighed-down by limitless opportunity? As a nation, do we carry the "responsibility of democracy"- are we responsible for promoting our ideals around the world, or is this just a fancy new way to carry out the "white man's burden?"

I'll wrap this up with a brief request. Please read this book.

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