Negative review of Franzen’s *Freedom*

It is a very good review, as the book has vanished for me.  Here is one excerpt:

…although the narrator of Freedom tells us on the first page, “There had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds,” one need read only that the local school “sucked” and that Patty was “very into” her teenage son, who in turn was “fucking” the girl next door, to know that whatever is wrong with these people does not matter. The language a writer uses to create a world is that world, and Franzen’s strenuously contemporary and therefore juvenile language is a world in which nothing important can happen. Madame Bovary’s marriage sucked, Heathcliff was into Catherine: these words fail the context not just because they are of our own time. There is no import in things that “suck,” no drama in someone’s being “into” someone else. As for the F word, Anthony Burgess once criticized the notion that to use it in matter-of-fact prose is to hark back to “a golden age of Anglo-Saxon candour”; the word was taboo from the start, because it stands for brutal or at best impersonal sex. “A man can fuck a whore but, unless his wife is a whore, he cannot fuck his wife … There is no love in it.” A writer like Franzen, who describes two lovers as “fucking,” trivializes their relationship accordingly. The result is boredom.

Here are three very good sentences:

Too much of it takes place in high school, college, or suburbia; how odd that a kind of fiction allegedly made necessary by America’s unique vitality always returns to the places that change the least. Franzen clearly has little interest in the world of work. (The same applies, incidentally, to whoever edited the novel.)

And this:

Perhaps he can learn a lesson from Freedom: write a long book about mediocrities, and in their language to boot, and they will drag you down to their level.

I thank The Browser for the pointer.

Addendum: Andrew Gelman comments.


i haven't and probably won't read the book, being no big fan of franzen, but how does it make sense that for a certain style of language and locale there would be no possible excellent book?

anyone read rick moody's latest book? i'm 60 pages in and like it so far.

The review is from the Atlantic.

The url is

My biggest beef was how false some of the UVA stuff was. Joey definitely would be "pre-Comm," not "thinking about majoring in Econ." Franzen also seems to think First Years there live on the lawn.

BTW I never past the 10 th page of The corrections

Well said SimeonJ. i know many, some very dear to me, who use, shall i say the vernacular, and communicate very effectively, albeit general sentiment to delimit effective communication,in much case with vulgar terms is always prevalent, and these days when the panolpy of choices of literature has never been more extensive, you want to talk that way? fine, it's just not conducive to description after awhile, like an uneeded qualifier where a noun would do. i don't know much about grammar, but i know when i swear too much, i'm not happy. Now my ex-wife? That'd be a different story. She could cuss like a sailor, and sometimes had meter and was definitive.

Why are we surprised that modern authors, who lack any life experience beyond attending prestigious universities, have little interesting to say about anything?

I agree with Anthony Burgess about the use of the F word.

It is much better to say "hiding the salami."

I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it. There are some stupidly gross parts and some plot twists that are just too convenient, and it's way too politicized in an already-yesterday's-news kind of way, but it keeps your interest.

"I like stuff that's cool; I don't like stuff that sucks."
--Beavis and Butthead

Aesthetics in a nutshell.

Wow. Frighteningly off base, small-minded, and perhaps the worst post I've seen on Marginal Revolution. "Freedom" is full of vivid, joyful, sharp, and flawed characters that grow up AND down the ladder throughout the book. And what's with the prudishness? You might as well say Frank Zappa was a talentless hack for using bad words, or perhaps Pynchon's "Gravity Rainbow" was utter garbage because of the toilet humor, deviant sex, etc.

Finally, WTF on the work comment/quote? The core struggle of the book (one of them, anyway) is PRECISELY about work: about ambition (both thwarted and realized), whether or not (and to what degree) to compromise your values in order to make progress, about being passionate yet conflicted about your calling, about a woman who chooses motherhood over the workforce (and never looks back), and yes, about people who find just about every vocation a vile, soul-crushing hurdle to conquer in order to get to what matters.

"Freedom" is full of vivid, joyful, sharp, and flawed characters"

Please. Whatever "Freedom"'s virtues, its characters are not "joyful." With a couple of exceptions, they're bitter, unhappy people living lives they wish they weren't, stuck in relationships they shouldn't be in, doing work they don't really believe in, while living in a world they think is becoming uglier by the day.

I'm reading the book now. Franzen has proven to me that he can string words together very effectively. The reviewer, OTOH, with his arch pronouncements about the word "fuck", has proven that he is a horse's ass.

the chess-playing autistic deigns to read and finds himself moved by david mitchell.


Don't you find it too much of a coincidence that the book had only glowing reviews before you could buy it and now there are only negative reviews? It benefits everyone involved.

"Myers is not arguing that a writer can't use vernacular language like "sucked" and "fucking" and write well."

I don't understand how to read

"A writer like Franzen, who describes two lovers as “fucking,† trivializes their relationship accordingly. The result is boredom."

in a way that doesn't argue exactly that.

I'm no book-reviewer, but I must admit, I'm a bit put-off myself by the language and baseness of this novel. Oprah called it "perhaps the best novel she's ever read." I'm very surprised to hear that, considering she's read some true classics such as "The Good Earth" and "Anna Karenina." I'm no high-brow intellectual, but I just can't get too interested in reading about these characters' masturbation and how or why or where they do it, page after page, with all the language too. It's not destined to be a classic, in my opinion. However, I'm only about half-way through it. I keep reading it NOT because I care about what will happen to the characters (as I would in say a John Jakes novel,) but because everyone keeps saying what a wonderful book this is. I'm waiting to feel that way myself. But so far, it's what I'd describe as raunchy, and the characters are not very believable or even remotely likeable.

The various characters seem improbable to me - sort of cardboard cutouts, as do some of the situations they find themselves in. However, it is a good, fast read - with surprise, surprise in modern fiction - a happy ending. I like happy endings. That probably negates any opinions on literature I have.

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