It enters the world and people are excited, people are raving, the author ends up on the cover on Time Magazine. Reviewers take out their big guns and blast the novel across the world. It is like an atomic bomb of kind words.
Everything that you read about the novel tells you that this is exactly the kind of novel that you would like to read.
You even read the authors autobiography lying in your underwear on mattress under a fan in Phnom Penh. You were sweaty and even though you did underline plenty of smart sentences, it did lack some, umphf?
The novel that entered the world moved across countries and continents like an air born virus.
You began to enjoy the fact that you and the author had very similar glasses.
Eventually his novel cames out in Swedish. Except for one reviewer, who thought that the author explains things too much and “does not give room for the reader to make his or her own mental images” (my translation), the reviewers are very excited.
There is disagreement regarding if it is , or is not, the great American novel, even in Sweden. But no one really seems sure what they mean with the great American novel (A combination of Auster, Oates and Roth?).
Nonetheless, the author of this exploding novel is a serious bird lover. He is interviewed in a Swedish literary program while watching birds. He stands on a rocky hill overlooking the sea somewhere outside Göteborg. He says that bird watching is very nerdy, that he would not have done this ten years ago. “Then I still thought I might become cool one day”.
You find the author to be highly sympathetic and remember when you read the story of him in your fathers Time Magazine. You remember him talking about the importance of solitude. He wrote his novel on an old Dell laptop which he had connected to an ethernet cord that he had glued to his computer before cutting it off. To force his solitude.
You knew way too much about a novel that you had not yet read.
All that was left was actually reading it.
Which you did.
It took almost three weeks to maneuver through the 550 or so pages.
Right now, as you drink a cup of tea and still have vivid memories of the events, and the infinitely complex characters that Jonathan Franzén with patience and love pins down in this epic, you feel that this might be the best novel you have ever read.
You think that it perhaps has something to do with the two longer stints living in the US. That you have seen and experienced the many complex aspects of rural life that is portrayed both in Wisconsin and in the images of West Virginia. You easily related these images to the year you spent in North Carolina. The portrayal of the educated modern day liberals with their ideals and inherent guilt is also familiar; you did browse the streets of San Francisco for a few months.
Sometimes the novel does lose its stride among the somewhat bulky, although valid, critique of the Iraqi war and the private contractors impact on the US army. Sometimes there is a bit too much information about migratory birds, although they do serve as an effective illustration of modern society’s impact on both nature and humans. But these are by all means very minor points.
Freedom is a masterly written exposé of contemporary America, from the youth of Patty and Walter Berglund to a sudden viral rant success against corporate America, it deals with many of the interesting impacts that contemporary culture has on everyday life and work.
It is the marriage between Walter and Patty, the environmentalist and former female basketball star, that keeps this trek of a novel together, and which ultimately makes it such a rewarding read. We follow them from childhood to their retirement, jumping in an out of two lives that certainly did not turn out as they had hoped.
Their son Joey leaving the home and turning into a full-fledged Republican is only one of their worries.
Substantial parts of the novel consist of a personal account of her life written by independent-basketball-star-turned-house-wife Patty. Her story reads like notes from several psychology sessions where private thoughts are masterly crafted. I’ve seldom experienced a novel character coming alive like Patty does. Infinitely complex, multifaceted, filled with self-doubt, anger, love and all those emotions that make us human.
And now, when your tea is slightly colder than it should be, you ask yourself if there is anything else that you could expect from a novel? Could you ask for anything more than a read which somehow helps you make sense of contemporary life in general? That there were parts of the human existence that you didn’t quite grasp before which you are now aware of now. More than anything you sense that the complexity of life, how pretentious that notion in itself might sound, has never been displayed in a more compelling way.
You think having higher expectations than that on a novel would be preposterous.
In the end it is only some ink on some pages, right?
But that strange sensation of loneliness you feel knowing that there are no more pages with this American family.
That sensation is quite something.