Update on Freedom

I am nearing half way through this book and the thought of reading more is giving me hives. I dislike this book. It’s boring. I don’t like the characters, I hate Patty Bergland, who I find completely unconvincing as a human being — she’s cardboard; constructed to fit the author’s needs. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that Franzen bothered to ask himself whether he understands anything about being a woman. Five minutes on Google would have sent him to dozens of sites where women speak cogently about what it’s like to be a woman in America. He doesn’t understand that rape is about more than the physical violence, it’s about the emotional damage. My God, I hate this book. I don’t understand how anyone can call this a work of genius. I really don’t.

I also hate Walter Bergland. And Richard Katz. They are effing boring me to DEATH. And please don’t mistake my use of the characters’ names for some kind of subtle suggestion that they are fully realized characters. They’re as cardboard as Patty. Oh god I just don’t care about this book and I don’t want to keep reading.

It isn’t brilliant. Not in any sense of the word. I’m still spitting mad. And now I’m also spitting mad that books that DO represent a woman’s life are “Chick Lit” and populist and not worthy of critical assessment. I’m starting to agree that Franzen is right ;Mikiko Kakutani must be the stupidest person in America to call this book brilliant.


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7 Responses to “Update on Freedom”

  1. KathyF says:

    I suppose you’ve read the Slate piece on Franzen and chick lit?


    That’s page three, which I deliberately linked to because of the comments. I replied to one there, and used your book as an example (I broke down and got it via Kindle for Mac, which I downloaded just so I could read it without the wait). (For some reason I was logged in as “absent”. Never could figure out their login system.)

    Anyway, it’s an interesting piece. We used to, way back when we subscribed to the print NYT, calculate on Sunday the percentage of books by males they’d reviewed. It was always around 75%. As I was raising two daughters at the time, and trying to muster up the courage to finish my first novel, that really drove me nuts.

    I’m glad you’re reading Franzen so I don’t have to. I did read The Corrections, which I enjoyed, mainly because we are dealing with a Parkinson’s dad as well. That part rang true.

  2. I think ET said it best: Oooooooouuuuuuch!

  3. Mina says:

    Oh Good Lord, put it down! Life is too short to read a book you hate.

    • Carolyn Jewel says:

      I’m tempted, Mina. I’d like to finish it so I have a complete basis for a review, though.

  4. Mina says:

    I have read two comments now that say “I’m glad you’re reading Franzen so I don’t have to” or something to that effect. One here, and one somewhere else last week….probably by someone else…

    This bothers me. No one has to read Franzen. Carolyn can’t read it for us. Her review may or may not line up with yours or mine or the NYT or RT.

    I feel like this is part of why romance authors aren’t taken seriously. We are all lumped together. We think alike, we have the same motives, the same tastes, the same ambitions, characters, and plots. All of our books are exactly alike. Read one, read them all. Ugh.

    I don’t mean to be hard on you, Kathy F. I know what you meant and I know I’m taking it to another level, but I have to go by the words on the page in this kind of forum. So my apologies for that. But you don’t have to apologize for not wanting to read it.

    • Carolyn Jewel says:


      I completely agree that no one should decide my opinion is necessarily correct. There’s no substitute for reading a book for oneself. If someone wants to know whether Freedom is a brilliant novel there would be no way to find out for sure except by reading it and deciding for oneself. On the other hand, part of the function of reviews is to help prospective readers decide if a book is one they’d like to read. To that extent, if someone wants to know if Freedom is a book she might enjoy, a review is one way of deciding without spending the time or money it would take to actually read it. I think most of us are aware that reading is subjective. Someone would have to know something about the kind of books I like before they decide whether they would enjoy a book I hold in esteem or would adore one I don’t.

      I don’t care for Madam Bovary at all, for example and there are loads and loads of people who disagree with my opinion. I think Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind is one of the finest Fantasy novels ever written, and I know there are people who could not finish it.

      Reviewers read for us all the time. That’s their job. And as a result, we may decide to skip a book or line up to buy it. In that, then, I will disagree with you. I would agree though, that if I elect not to read a book based on a review, I can’t have an opinion on the merits of the book, I can only say that, based on the review(s) I elected not to read it. Anyone who reads what I’ve said about Freedom can only say, Carolyn doesn’t like it, and I think that means I wouldn’t either. But that person will never know for sure — until she reads the book.

      And thank you, Mina, for coming by to express your opinions. I think they’re interesting and quite valuable. It’s been lovely to discuss these issues.

  5. KathyF says:

    Yes, you did take it to another level.

    However, if I read a review from a reviewer I trust, I’m inclined to agree that the book/film either is or is not to my taste, thus avoiding me watching/reading it.

    I suspect I’d feel the same about the latest from Franzen, since I did feel that way reading his last novel, although ultimately I enjoyed the tale, if not the telling. (The difference is vast, to me.)

    I never saw the film Titanic since those I trusted abhorred it, and I’m pretty sure I saved myself the experience of sitting through a film I’d have hated.

    So, no apologies. Life is too short.