Saturday, October 16, 2010


I’m fairly certain that I speak for all graphic designers when I say that sending the wrong file to print ranks as a professional nightmare of unparalleled proportions. My palms are perspiring just thinking about it. I’m not sure on what page of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom I realized something was amiss (you know, like, that was one typo too many for a book that’s not self published) but I was not surprised to read that this is precisely what happened. Someone at the publishing house sent the uncorrected proof to print. Only a hundred and forty thousand copies hit the shops. They are now being recalled like some dangerous pharmaceutical product and pulped. Pulped! I’m guessing since that horrifying debacle the person responsible is most likely “free” to pursue self-employment opportunities.

Freedom is a satire on American capitalism and the nuclear family. Thank god the family are Boomers with Gen Y offspring and not Gen X like myself. Otherwise it would have made for uncomfortable reading. I mean the Bergland’s are educated, Volvo driving, middle class with eco aspirations. It’s already a bit close for comfort. Like Franzen’s earlier novel The Corrections it has historic and geographic sweep, literary ambition and an examination of the big themes of consumer culture, power and the nature of fleeting and enduring love –familial and romantic. As I ploughed through its often very funny 562 pages while rocking the baby in the bjorn, fixing sandwiches while shaking sand out of sandals I did wonder – aside from whether it is a good idea to read about family life while living it – what is the difference between realism and satire? Is it heart? His great invention is uber-cool muso Richard Katz. It may be drawing too long a bow but I saw parallels between him and Franzen. Richard’s relationship to his own late critical and commercial success as a musician is achingly complex. What is it about Americans and success? It’s like their relationship to orthodontics. Kinda obsessive. Anyway, I liked it – a lot.


  1. First of all thank you for the book. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I agree about Katz being the most interesting character - but I found the book disappointing in the American Beauty kind of way - such a well trodden critique albeit well written and observed. His skill as a writer doesn't match the substance of his analysis. And what was with the daughter (cant remember her name - don't have the book at hand!) its like he couldn't be bothered with her character.

  2. j, you know i think you are right about it being disappointing. i've been thinking about writing that i liked it "a lot". i feel like amending that. so many great passages but it doesn't completely hang together, does it? and yes, what happened to Jessica (the daughter). She doesn't get much of a look in (when there is a long riff at the end about Walter's extended family – boring, skim read that part). And what about Eliza the junkie? Dropped! Was that a missed opportunity? In the end I agree with you that the substance of franzen's analysis is lite. Like he found "hot" issues but when it's come to fashioning them into a narrative he's hasn't got conviction behind him. i guess that's why i wondered about heart, or its absence. But then, it's all worth it for the shit scene.

    P.S Would you like me to return the book so it can be pulped and replace it with the new version ? It has Oprah's gold stamp of approval.

    P.P.S Sorry about all the case confusion. Fricken tired.

  3. I'd forgotten Emma (she was ace) but perhaps that's the point - sometimes everyone (who wants to be Tolstoy) has to prove that they aren't Tolstoy despite their best efforts.

    R.E P.S Could you perhaps pulp the book and then return it as a paper-mache sculpture?

  4. just revisiting, this, is the best review I've read (by best i mean the one that corresponds most to what I think!)