Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yet Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

While I've not read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, there are no shortage of reviews through which one is able to glean the gist of it. Most are more or less positive, but one very interesting exception is by B.R. Myers in the October edition of The Atlantic magazine. It may well be that Myers is missing key aspects of the novel's irony and satire, but his critical approach lead me to conclude nevertheless that whatever its structural faults, the book is seriously mis-titled as well.

In his first paragraph, Myers writes that "the novel is a 576-page monument to insignificance." Freedom's purpose, I gather from both Myers' and others' reviews, is to mock the incoherent, overwrought, and finally phony sensibilities of suburban Americans, people living alone together, playing their assigned roles in what is ultimately a meaningless story. Haven't we heard this cynical tale before? Many times before, in fact?

Anyway, it occurs to me that the banal nation of Franzen's creation is actually a product of equality, not freedom. Even when we're not deliberately pursuing equality in the name of justice, our unchecked drift toward it has resulted in a centralized and standardized country of increasingly insufferable mediocrity and sameness, a sameness for which humans are ultimately ill-suited, and against which they must, as humans, rebel. However, and this is key, without recent practice in liberty, in real liberty with its attendant responsibilities, they rebel in dysfunctional ways much like the characters that populate the pages of Franzen's mis-titled book.

Should I read it anyway?

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