After ruminating upon it, I’ve concluded that, while Freedom has its merits and Franzen cannot be disregarded as one of America’s great novelists, I much preferred The Corrections over Freedom and was rather underwhelmed by Freedom. I’m fully aware that part of this is influenced by the critical frenzy that swathed the novel, but, frankly, objectively, I can’t say I’d jump on that bandwagon of effusive praise any time soon. The environmentalism and political/social commentary often bore down too heavily and too long, and I had a difficult time separating Walter Berglund from Franzen the Bird Enthusiast, although I’ve read speculation on Richard Katz being the stand-in for Franzen.
That said, it’s really not possible to discredit Franzen’s ability to craft. He makes it seem so effortless and simple; he isn’t prone to sweeping prose or beautiful language; but his prose is deceptively plain, almost to the point of disappearing under the radar as you, the reader, rage with loathing for his cast of characters — for loathe it is indeed you do freely because there’s nothing redemptive about these people. And, yet, even that speaks of Franzen’s mastery of craft; you may be heaping all manner of curses upon these characters; but you don’t cease to read because you want to know — you’ve read 300 pages, so you must push through the final 200 in hopes of reconciliation, and, in the end, Franzen does deliver a satisfying and fitting ending that allows you to sigh and not count the past few days a waste.
(Next in my Franzen reading will be his debut novel. Although I think Freedom might and might not be worth picking up, I do recommend The Corrections and very highly praise his essay collection, How To Be Alone.)