The Pequod Review:
Jonathan Franzen's fourth novel shares many surface-level similarities with his previous book (The Corrections, 2001) but it is inferior in almost every way. The story focuses on the married life of Walter and Patty Berland, an upwardly-mobile couple who at the start of the book are living in a gentrifying St. Paul, MN neighborhood and later move to Washington D.C. But where the Lamberts' mundane concerns were compelling, the Berglands (to say nothing of their friends and neighbors) are often ponderous. The last third of the book is particularly irritating, full of navel-gazing moments but little insight. There are also snippets of facile political commentary sprinkled throughout — as, for example, when Franzen uses sinister tones to describe Halliburton, "whose former CEO was now running the nation" — which are so cheap and petty that I'm surprised they survived what was surely a rigorous editing process.
The book has some structural problems too. A large section of Freedom is comprised of an autobiography written by Patty ("Mistakes Were Made") that is told from an awkwardly-distant third-person perspective and is entirely unrealistic (written as it is with a level of insight and self-awareness that is incongruous with Patty's real life behavior). It makes for an odd reading experience to be constantly aware of the fact that you are reading Jonathan Franzen's words and not Patty Bergland's. Of course Franzen is an enormously talented writer so the book has several exceptional scenes (especially early in the book) and moments of truly exhilarating prose. But overall this is a second-rate novel that lacks almost everything that made The Corrections so magical.