Jonathan Franzen’s having a good week. Nine years in the making, his new novel Freedom: A Novel grabs rave reviews, the cover of Time (“The Great American Novelist”) and is acquired by producer Scott Rudin (who bought his last book, National Book Award-winner The Corrections, which has yet to be turned into a movie; David Hare and Stephen Daldry were once attached).
The Corrections also churned up a lot of press, much of it misreported, like the Oprah Winfrey book-club incident (she fired Franzen, not the other way around), which only served to boost sales. Upon its publication, Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir wrote:
Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” arrives amid so much fanfare — most of it surface noise for which the author himself cannot be held responsible — that it’s hard to remember that there’s a book somewhere underneath it all.”
Freedom follows the crumbling romance and complicated dynamics of the Berglund family. Walter is a corporate worker trying to hold his family together. His wife Peggy, a former college basketball star, longs for Walter’s old friend who also happens to be a rock star. New York Magazine’s Sam Anderson describes the book as “…a work of total genius.” He goes on to say:
However similar Franzen’s novels might look from a distance, there’s always one key distinction: They’re populated by different people. Few modern novelists rival Franzen in that primal skill of creating life, of tricking us into believing that a text-generated set of neural patterns, a purely abstract mind-event, is in fact a tangible human being that we can love, pity, hate, admire, and possibly even run into someday at the grocery store. His characters are so densely rendered—their mental lives sketched right down to the smallest cognitive micrograins—that they manage to bust through the art-reality threshold: They hit us in the same place that our friends and neighbors and classmates and lovers do. This is what makes Franzen’s books such special events, and so worth the alarmingly sustained attention it can require to process them.
Pretty high praise, and that isn’t the only positive review. Esquire has a similar reading here, and so does Publisher’s Weekly here. The challenge facing Rudin is how to adapt one art form to another: especially problematic is translating the embellishments and virtuosity specific to “literary” text. UPDATE: Here’s the NYT’s Michiko Kakutani.