Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 5: The Most Talked-About Novel of the Year

For Day 5 of our 24 Days of Books we're going to talk about the year's most-talked-about novel, Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. Love him or hate him -- or any emotion in between -- discussion of Franzen and his book have been all over the media since the book was published in August -- including a shot of Franzen on the cover of Time Magazine, the first novelist to be featured on the cover since Stephen King ten years ago. We picked today to talk about Franzen's book because tomorrow he will appear on the Oprah Show, which is significant for reasons that I'll cover in a bit. Freedom is Franzen's first novel since The Corrections, which won the National Book Award in 2001 (it was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Critics Circle Award, among others).

The awards have been less forthcoming for his newest novel, but it has still received great acclaim. The New York Times Book Review, which just picked Freedom as one of the Top Ten Books of 2010, called the novel "a masterly portrait of a nuclear family in turmoil, with an intricately ordered narrative and a majestic sweep that seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life."

The novel, about Walter and Patty Berglund of St Paul, Minnesota, their kids, their marriage, their successes and failures, is one "long, juicy, scathing, funny and poignant indictment of contemporary American life."

I did not read The Corrections when it came out, despite the rave reviews. Who knows why. But I decided to read Freedom early, before all the shouting started. And I loved it. So much so that I bought and now intend to read (after the holiday craziness subsides) The Corrections. Freedom is a big beefy juicy novel that I found completely engrossing, even if the characters weren't always completely likable or the plot lines always convincing. I still found myself missing the characters when I was done reading the book.

So, to get back to the Oprah story I alluded to at the beginning of this post: In 2001, when The Corrections was all the rage, Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club and invited Franzen to appear on her show. The author expressed -- in print and in interviews -- that he wasn't completely taken with the idea, and his invitation was rescinded. Fast forward to 2010, and, as Oprah's talk show winds down its run, she gave him another shot, choosing Freedom for her book club and once again inviting Franzen to appear on the show. This time he unhesitatingly accepted the offer, and tomorrow we'll see how their get-together came off. I'm guessing it won't be another ambush shellacking, as when author James Frey and editor Nan Talese appeared on Oprah's show -- at least let's hope not!

For the lover of contemporary fiction in your life, Freedom would be a good bet.

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