I am reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, in part as something completely different from anything else I’ve been trying to keep up with lately, and in part because it is a current, topical book, recently released and still under discussion in the blogosphere and, frankly, to some extent the act of reading any book isn’t just to improve or inform one’s mind with the essential goodness of a particular text, but rather to participate in the cultural assimilation, via reaction and discussion (online, these days), of how a significant new book is received.
I am about half-way through.
I will say this: It is engrossing. It is a ‘realistic’, contemporary, story about the members of Minnesota family, and it cannily switches perspectives, from one family member to the next, to give a kaleidoscopic perspective. It explores the relationships of the family members, in psychologically astute detail; almost to the point of clinical examination, but never less than fascinating and, as I said, engrossing.
As a reader of science fiction (and, sometimes, fantasy), I can’t help but reflect, as I often do on reading literary novels, on what the point of any work of fiction is. Literary mavens routinely dismiss SF/F on the basis that its works contain no real characters, and thus cannot be comprehended, as being too abstract.
It would be easy to react to literary novels, this Franzen in particular, as being entirely too self-absorbed. It is all about its characters. So what? Any person, any character, contains multitudes; fine. Is there any larger meaning? That larger meaning is generally what SF/fantasy is after.
I’m half-way through, and there are suggestions of larger perspectives — namely, issues of overpopulation and global warming. I suspect these are abstract issues, incidental in the context, not really what the book is after. If anything, the larger issue is suggested by the title — the issue of how any person lives their life, finds meaning in their life amidst the infinite possibilities inherent in the concept of freedom. With so many ways to choose how to live one’s life, how does one make it meaningful?
But I might well be reading into it more than is there; or missing the point. I’ll say more once I’ve finished.