B.R. Myers vs. Garth Hallberg on Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and the role of the reviewer

I have issues with both reviewers but I lean toward Hallberg. I quite liked Freedom, though I agree with Myers that I found much of its prose, not necessarily the passages Myers quotes, a bit tedious.

I am often frustrated at Myers's analysis because it is very rigid. Hallberg is spot-on when he says that Myers doesn't know what it means for language to "evoke." Many great contemporary writers have sentences or phrases whose denotation is lost to me, but whose evocation is very moving. I once saw the phrase "half-eared grain." By itself, that doesn't make much sense, but the sound of the phrase was very evocative to me. I also think the strangeness is oddly harmonious.

As far as Freedom goes, I'll be brave and say that I think Franzen is one of the most important American writers working today. I also think that Franzen would be somewhat more sympathetic to Myers's fears of "unseriousness" than he would Hallberg. But Myers, here, seems to have misplaced his critique. I found Freedom to be very serious. And not necessarily in a postmodern/meta way.

Obviously, The Corrections is the better book. But there is certain character work in Freedom that I think actually outweighs The Corrections. At one point, Patty is discussing sex with Walter (in the 3rd person, of course) and she says something along the lines of 'Walter refused to let Patty blow him because of the sexist connotations such an act might have entailed.' From Patty's view, this was ridiculous. She wanted to do something for her husband; she was trying to love him. Yet, Walter's political views didn't allow him to receive an act of love.

Personally, that resonated deeply with me. In our society, the personal and political are difficult to separate. Often, if care isn't taken, political ideologies (even ones that are "correct") can have adverse consequences.

Clearly, Franzen is a feminist. He's not saying "Hey, bro, take that BJ whenever you can get it! She's supposed to give you one!"

It's more like "When we allow our personalities to be governed by abstract politics that are divorced from the particulars of a situation, we become less than human."

He, then, looks at this in scope and discusses how far we, as concerned citizens, ought to go in making the world a better place. Do we make the deal with the devil to get something huge done? Or, as Franzen ultimately suggests, do we settle with making whatever we can, that which is in front of us, that which we can love, better?

I think Freedom is a beautiful novel.

/r/literature Thread