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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom"

Reviewing the Reviewers

You can hardly fancy yourself a "serious social commentator" -- and what self-respecting blogger doesn't? -- unless you take a crack at reviewing Jonathan Franzen's epic new novel, "Freedom."

Which, of course, first requires that you actually read the almost-600 page thing -- no small undertaking.

Before getting to my review, though, I thought it more interesting to review the reviewers.

I've now read three: The New York Times Book Review; David Brooks, from The New York Times Op-Ed page (detect a theme?); and B.R. Meyers in The Atlantic.

In order, they have pronounced "Freedom": 'a masterpiece of American literature'; 'a flawed masterpiece'; and, simply, "flawed."

Anything that inspires such divergent, Rashomon-esque commentary is, at the very least, curiousity-inspiring, and worthy of deeper examination.

It's also telling that the last two reviewers, Rorschach-like, home in on what they think the book is missing ("ambition"), then proceed to expend not a little energy delving into what they wished it addressed, i.e., remedies for the cultural ennui Freedom brilliantly limns (read the book, and you too, will be taking out your dictionary).

Provocative, perhaps, but not exactly great (or very fair) literary criticism -- sort of like a food critic pronouncing the chocolate souffle "exquisite," but then lamenting it doesn't taste more like cherry pie.

More about the actual book to come.

For now, suffice to say that, fresh off completing it, it's impossible to go to a University of Minnesota football game -- as I did last night -- and not scan the crowd looking for "Patty-lookalikes" (one of the story's main characters, in a book with a major Minnesota connection).

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