Peace and War

From The New York Times:

Jon Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” like his previous one, “The Corrections,” is a masterpiece of American fiction. The two books have much in common. Once again Franzen has fashioned a capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life. Franzen knows that college freshmen are today called “first years,” like tender shoots in an overplanted garden; that a high-minded mom, however ruthless in her judgments of her neighbors’ ethical lapses, will condemn them with no epithet harsher than “weird”; that reckless drivers who barrel across lanes are “almost always youngish men for whom the use of blinkers was apparently an affront to their masculinity.”

These are not gratuitous observations. They grow organically from the themes that animate “Freedom,” beginning with the title, a word that has been elevated throughout American history to near-theological status, and has been twinned, for most of that same history, with the secularizing impulses of “power.” That twinning is where the trouble begins. As each of us seeks to assert his “personal liberties” — a phrase Franzen uses with full command of its ideological implications — we helplessly collide with others in equal pursuit of their sacred freedoms, which, more often than not, seem to threaten our own. It is no surprise, then, that “the personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage,” as Franzen remarks. And the dream will always sour; for it is seldom enough simply to follow one’s creed; others must embrace it too. They alone can validate it.

More here.

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