Franzen’s Freedom

With the bevy of “best of” year-end book lists appearing, I thought it time to re-visit Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom which seems to be the 800 pound gorilla in the collective room, either appearing on the list (see Salon’s editors’ picks, The New York Times ten best books) or being trumpeted as absent from the list (Slate’s books, Salon’s authors’ lists). Already seemingly forgotten is the controversy that the Tanenhaus review in The New York Times Book Review engendered, a not wholly off-base gnashing of teeth over the critical circle jerk that greeted Franzen’s book, with complaints about why such a middling book is getting the full masterpiece treatment and pointing out that in our literary culture, male writers get an inordinate amount of this kind of “capturing the zeitgeist” adulation.  I have to admit to some surprise that Freedom commands such year-end attention. Collective critical opinion tends to settle over time and I thought given the basic mediocrity of the book that a lot of critics, now freed up from that initial critical lockstep, would simply allow it to drift away unremarked upon (and to be fair, after sampling a number of such lists, Freedom is hardly a ubiquitous presence). Continue reading

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