I’m about 75% of the way through Freedom (Franzen’s new novel) right now, and I feel like shooting my mouth off about it.
I read The Corrections many years ago when it was fairly new, and I read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, who was a good friend of Jonathan Franzen’s, more recently after hearing about Foster Wallace’s suicide. Now that I’m reading Freedom, I think that Franzen has decided to pick up the mantle of DFW.
Here are some things I have noticed in Freedom, which are not in The Corrections (though I will admit that it has been a long time since I touched the book and my memory is not above reproach) but which it does have in common with Infinite Jest.
- The large: the story-within-story expansion, in Patty Berglund’s autobiography, Mistakes Were Made.
- The not-so-large: using footnotes in contemporary fiction. Susannah Clarke did that in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but that was supposed to look like something written in the 1800s.
- The arguably trivial: uses the word “complexly.” Who else does that?
- The small: a strawberry blonde as The Most Beautiful Woman On Earth. In Infinite Jest, they even made an acronym for Joelle Van Dyne for exactly this purpose: PGOAT, the Prettiest Girl Of All Time. Jenna in Freedom doesn’t get the acronym treatment (at least not yet), and she’s nowhere near as sympathetic a character as Joelle Van Dyne, but the imagery is a mite too obvious to ignore.
If Franzen ends his new novel with a gigantic appendix of endnotes, that’s fine, but I really hope the story has an actual conclusion, because his late friend’s magnum opus didn’t really get the job done in that regard.