You may have heard from, oh, I don’t know, the Time Magazine cover or the Vogue profile or the rave reviews or the Picoult/Weiner spat or the author video where Franzen says he doesn’t like author videos or the fact that the President of the United States was spotted with it….. anyway, you might have heard that Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out today, his first since The Corrections, and it’s a pretty big deal.
I haven’t yet read Freedom, but from the early reviews this novel is everything that our Internet-manic, high concept craving, supposedly dumbed down culture is not. It “[deconstructs] a family’s history to give us a wide-angled portrait of the country as it rumbled into the materialistic 1990s.” (NY Times) It explores “the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives.” (LA Times).
You can’t exactly Tweet a summary of what this book is about. Whether you like Franzen’s books or not (as you can probably tell: I’m a big fan), it’s a novel that punches a gaping hole through the remarkably persistent idea that the publishing industry, and the culture as a whole, is only interested in high concept schlock and the lowest common denominator.
On the other hand, Freedom, in its bigness, in its You Must Read This To Be a Thinking Person in America, is already a novel of the times – the big books getting steadily bigger, accumulating hype with gravitational pull, and then there’s everything else fighting for attention.
We seem to be a culture that is simultaneously craving books that fit our exact specifications at the same time that we want the shared experience of reading something, loving it, and sharing that experience with our friends (virtual and real life). Culture seems to be moving two contradictory ways – fracturing into ever-smaller niches at the same time that it’s coalescing around a few massively popular books and movies. We normally think of the blockbusters in terms of James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, and Stephenie Meyer, but even in literary fiction you have your Freedoms and Oscar Waos.
And in a still further sign of the time, even though Franzen once said of his disdain for novels in e-book form, “Am I fetishizing ink and paper? Sure, and I’m fetishizing truth and integrity too,” Freedom is available for sale as an e-book simultaneously with the hardcover.
What do you think? Will you be reading Freedom?