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Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom,' reviewed by David L. Ulin

August 19, 2010 |  4:06 pm

Freedom_franzenJonathan Franzen's "Freedom" hits shelves at the end of the month, but reviews are cropping up all over the place. Ours, by David L. Ulin, appears in print Friday; it's online now.

Jonathan Franzen begins his fourth novel, "Freedom," with an extended set piece introducing Walter and Patty Berglund, urban homesteaders who, back in the 1980s, moved to the crumbling core of St. Paul, Minn., and became "the young pioneers of Ramsey Hill." It's an interesting choice since, as Franzen makes clear from the book's first sentence, the Berglunds have abandoned the Twin Cities for Washington, D.C., and "mean nothing to St. Paul now." Still, their memory, or their influence, lingers like an afterimage: the perfect couple that somehow wasn't, whose love was shattered by some ineradicable taint. As the chapter unfurls, Franzen draws in broad strokes the terms of their unraveling, which in all the large and small ways resembles the unraveling of the culture that surrounds them, culminating in "the great national tragedy" of Sept. 11.

Franzen pulls it off -- as he pulls off nearly everything in this rich and nuanced novel -- because for all that it appears to be their book, "Freedom" is more than just the story of the Berglunds' fall. Instead, they are the tip of the iceberg, a filter through which to explore the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives.

Franzen has been working on this book, on and off, ever since the 2001 release his previous novel, "The Corrections," which won the National Book Award.  Does "Freedom" measure up? Read the rest of Ulin's review of Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom"  to find out.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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