from my bookshelf: freedom by jonathan franzen


walter and patty berglund are married with two kids, joey and jessica. their lives start out seeming relatively average: their biggest concerns revolve around keeping up with the kids’ extra-curriculars and drama with neighbors. as joey and jessica grow up, patty and walter are forced to face the reality of their marriage and the truth unravels. patty and walter’s mutual friend, musician richard katz, comes back into the picture and reopens painful reminders of a love triangle that used to exist…and is clearly not over. the berglund clan evolves into a dysfunctional pack of individuals instead of the close unit they started out as; only time will tell if they will make their way back to each other, or if the damage they have done to each other is beyond repair.


“It made him wonder who his real self was; and this was very disturbing.”

“It was like the way his brain on pot would jolt back to present awareness after being lost in deep stoned reverie: he could see that the other subway riders were leading their lives, pursuing their goals, and that he needed to take care to do this, too.”

“…gray winter seemed to Walter the northern forest’s true native state. Summer merely an accident of grace that annually befell it.”

“…he loved Patty in some wholly other way, some larger and more abstract but nevertheless essential way that was about a lifetime of responsibility; about being a good person.”

“He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know how to live. Each new thing he encountered in life impelled him in a direction that fully convinced him of its rightness, but then the next new thing loomed up and impelled him in the opposite direction, which also felt right. There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive’s sake.”

“He and his wife loved each other and brought each other daily pain…He and Patty couldn’t live together and couldn’t imagine living apart. Each time he thought they’d reached the unbearable breaking point, it turned out that there was still further they could go without breaking.”

“This wasn’t the person he thought he was, or would have chosen to be if he’d been free to choose, but there was something comforting and liberating about being an actual definite someone, rather than a collection of contradictory potential someones.”

“He watched a catbird hopping around in an azalea that was readying itself to bloom; he envied the bird for knowing nothing of what he knew; he would have swapped souls with it in a heartbeat.”