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Freedom Book Summary, Review, Notes

The novel’s main theme is the love triangle between Patty, her husband Walter, and his best friend Richard. The book also covers topics such as the Iraqi war, politics in general, sports, ecology, and family relationships. 

Book Title: Freedom
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Date of Reading: July, 2017
Rating: 5/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is divided into five sections. 


“Good Neighbours” is about the setting of the Berglund family and the lives of Patty, her husband Walter, their two children, Jessica and Joey. The family is a typical liberal middle-class family, moving from the suburbs to the urban parts of the city. 


“Mistakes were made” is about Patty’s life and her yearning for the person who she was in the younger days. In this part, she has an affair with Richard, Walter’s best friend from college days, in their summer house.


“2004” jumps a couple of years to the early 2000s. In this part, Walter’s marriage with Patty slowly starts to fall apart. Patty moves away from the house and Walter starts a relationship with his assistant Lalitha. Patty starts dating Richard. 


“Mistakes were made- conclusion” details the continuation and closure of Patty’s autobiography. She hasn’t seen or talked to Walter in six years, she broke up with Richard in just a couple of months, and she lives alone in Brooklyn. Her relationship with kids (now grownups) is better, but she suddenly got diagnosed with cancer. She runs into Richard who convinces her to talk to Walter. 


“Canterbridge Estates Lake” is the last part of the book. Walter, after Lalitha died in a car accident, becomes a reclusive, living next to a lake. Patty comes to his doorstep and after a fit of rage, Walter takes her in and restarts the relationship after six years. They moved to New York a year later to be closer to most of their friends and family.


Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:




“According to Patty, the lesson that Joey had learned from his incessant arguments with Walter was that children were compelled to obey parents because parents had the money.” 




“She knew that you could love somebody more than anything and still not love the person all that much, if you were busy with other things.”

”And yet you’re apparently unaware that his dad’s dying of liver disease and his older brother’s in jail for vehicular assault and his other brother’s spending his Army paychecks making payments on his vintage Corvette. And Walter’s averaging about four hours of sleep while you’re being friends and hanging out, just so you can come over here and flirt with me.” Patty became very quiet.” 




“A: If you’re going to talk about ancient history, let’s go back to the French Revolution. Remember when, I forget his name, but that rocker who wrote the “Marseillaise,” Jean Jacques Whoever—remember when his song started getting all that airplay in 1792, and suddenly the peasantry rose up and overthrew the aristocracy? There was a song that changed the world. Attitude was what the peasants were missing. They already had everything else—humiliating servitude, grinding poverty, unpayable debts, horrific working conditions. But without a song, man, it added up to nothing. The sansculotte style was what really changed the world.”

“Mainstream, and manufacture Chiclets, and help try to persuade fourteen-year-olds that the look and feel of Apple Computer products is an indication of Apple Computer’s Commitment to making the world a better place. Because making the world a better place is cool, right? And Apple Computer must be way more committed to a better world, because iPods are so much cooler-looking than other MP3 players, which is why they’re so much more expensive and incompatible with other companies’ software, because—well, actually, it’s a little unclear why, in a better world, the very coolest products have to bring the very most obscene profits to a tiny number of residents of the better world. This may be a case where you have to step back and take the long view and see that getting to have your own iPod is itself the very thing that makes the world a better place. And that’s what I find so refreshing about the Republican Party. They leave it up to the individual to decide what a better world might be. It’s the party of liberty, right? That’s why I can’t understand why those intolerant Christian moralists have so much influence on the party.” 

“Self-interest, yeah, but a total win-win. In terms of locking up habitat to save it from development, it’s a lot easier to turn a few billionaires than to educate American voters who are perfectly happy with their cable and their Xboxes and their broadband.”

“C-A-T-S. Everybody loves their kitty cat and lets it run around outside. It’s just one cat—how many birds can it kill? Well, every year in the U.S. one billion songbirds are murdered by domestic and feral cats. It’s one of the leading causes of songbird decline in North America. But no one gives a shit because they love their own individual kitty cat.”

”All it takes to disprove a general law is one counterexample. I’ve got at least two great ones in Jessica and Lalitha.” “But not Joey?”

“You’ve got a whole cult following because of your integrity.” “Integrity’s a neutral value. Hyenas have integrity, too. They’re pure hyenas.”




”You’re right about that. But when we discover that our understanding of the world, based on decades of careful empirical study by the very best minds, is in striking accordance with the inductive principle of universal human freedom, it’s a good indication that our thinking is at least approximately on track.”

”And so I’m guessing you’ve already had the experience of being frustrated with people who aren’t as bright as you are. People who are not only unable but unwilling to admit certain truths whose logic is self-evident to you. Who don’t even seem to care that their logic is bad. Have you never been frustrated that way?”




“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.” 

”What is your thing? You don’t have a thing. You sit around doing nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, every day, and it’s killing me. If you would actually go out and get a job, and earn an actual paycheck, or do something for another human being, instead of sitting in your room feeling sorry for yourself, you might feel less worthless, is what I’m saying.”


Jonathan Franzen Quote 2


“What he’d never understood about men in his position, in all the books he’d read and movies he’d seen about them, was clearer to him now: you couldn’t keep expecting wholehearted love without, at some point, requiting it. There was no credit to be earned for simply being good.”




“The kiddies were perennially enticing and perennially unsatisfying in much the same way that coke was unsatisfying: whenever he was off it, he remembered it as fantastic and unbeatable and craved it, but as soon as he was on it again he remembered that it wasn’t fantastic at all, it was sterile and empty: neuro-mechanistic, death-flavored.” 

“Youth had ever recorded. But Jessica was adamant about picking a name that said yes rather than no. Something pro, not contra. “Kids my age are way more libertarian than you guys were,” she explained. “Anything that smells like elitism, or not respecting somebody else’s point of view, they’re allergic to.

“Direction, aging, and the self-protective core of him, seeing it, was telling him to run while he still could. He’d followed an instinct in coming down here, but there was a big difference, he was realizing, between an instinct and a plan.” 

”Ha. I don’t know if that makes it worse or better. I guess it doesn’t even matter, since it was all in my head anyway.I’ve spent three years wanting a thing I knew would never make me happy. But that didn’t make me stop wanting it. You were like a bad drug I couldn’t stop craving. My whole life was like a kind of mourning for some evil drug I knew was bad for me. It was literally not until yesterday, when I actually saw you, that I realized I didn’t need the drug after all. It was suddenly like, ‘What was I thinking? He’s here for Walter.’ 




“Traveling with her in Argentina was the fact that, five months earlier, at the age of twenty, in a fit of madness in New York City, he’d gone to the courthouse in Lower Manhattan and married Connie Monaghan. But this was by no means the worst of his worries, and he chose, for the moment, to overlook it.”

“Watered gardens and paddocks and fully modernized stone guesthouses and stables. Joey and Jenna’s room had deliciously needless expanses of cool tiled floor and big windows open to the rushing of the stream below them. He’d feared there would be two beds, but either Jenna had intended to share a kingsize with her mother or she’d changed the reservation. He stretched out on the deep-red brocade bedspread, sinking into its thousand-dollar-a-night plushness. But Jenna was already changing into riding clothes and boots. “Félix is going to show me the horses,” she said. “Do you want to come along?”



“And it was a strange thing to feel, but he definitely felt it: when he emerged from the bathroom with the ring on his ring finger, and Jenna rushed past him and then reeled out again, squealing and cursing at the stench, he was a different person. He could see this person so clearly, it was like standing outside himself. He was the person who’d handled his own shit to get his wedding ring back. This wasn’t the person he’d 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.” 

“She’s so much less lucky than you are.” Joey proceeded to tell Jonathan the story of the ring, and the ghastly scene in the bathroom, with his hands full of crap and Jenna knocking on the door, and in his own laughter and in Jonathan’s laughter and disgusted groans he found the solace he’d been looking for. What had been abhorrent for five minutes made a great story forever after.” 




”Except I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want to be in the same room with you again. I don’t want to hear that person’s name again. I don’t want to have anything to do with either of you. Ever. I just want to be alone so I can contemplate having wasted my entire life loving you.”

“The next afternoon, after Soquel had returned to the airport, Lalitha locked the door of Walter’s office and knelt down between his legs to reward him for his labors. “No, no, no,” he said, rolling the chair away from her.”

“Whatever did happen exactly, around 7:45 a.m., five miles south of the farm, her car went down a long and very steep embankment and crushed itself against a hickory tree. The police report would not even offer the faintly consoling assurance of an instant killing. But the trauma was severe, her pelvis was broken and a femoral artery severed, and she had certainly died before Walter, at 7:30 in Minnesota, returned the house key to its nail beneath the bench and headed over to Aitkin County to look for his brother.”




“Spending so much time listening to her father make fun of everything, albeit a little more feebly each day, she was disturbed to see how much like him she was, and why her own children weren’t more amused by her capacity for amusement, and why it would have been better to have forced herself to see more of her parents in the critical years of her own parenthood, so as to better understand her kids’ response to her.” 

“All I’m asking for is enough money so I don’t have to work.” “What’s wrong with working?” Patty said, hearing” 

“Patty could see that Joyce wasn’t just lucky to have a daughter like her: that she was also lucky to have had a mother like Joyce.”

“’I’m not blaming you,” Patty said. “I’m asking because I was really good at basketball. I was really, really good. I’ve probably made more mistakes as a mother than you did, so this is not a criticism. I’m just thinking, it would have made you shockingly bad at managing boys older than six or seven, and it’s a struggle to interest herself in an activity purely for activity’s sake; she needs a real team, her own team, to discipline and focus on winning.”




“Unexpected news that Walter had a law degree and was versed not only in his First Amendment rights but also in the Canterbridge Estates homeowners covenant, which contained a clause requiring pets to be under the control of their owners at all times; the sheriff advised Linda to shred the leaflet and move on.” 

“Small-label Richard Katz solo effort, with a boreal landscape on the front, superimposed with the title Songs for Walter.”


Book Review (Personal Opinion):


I got a recommendation to read this book so I followed through and read it in just a couple of days. The style of the book is good, but I got angry at the characters in the book so much that it made my reading experience miserable. For 90% of reading, all I wanted to do is slap some sense in Walter. And when he finally seemed to be content with his life, he goes back to his former wife who made his life a living hell, cheating him with his best friend multiple times. I was so pissed at the characters and I don’t really recommend this book to people. 


Rating: 5/10


This Book Is For (Recommend):



If You Want To Learn More


Here’s Jonathan Franzen speaking at John Adams Institute about the book. 
John Adams Institute


How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book


I didn’t. 


One Small Actionable Step You Can Do


Don’t read this book. And don’t cheat on your wife/husband.

Freedom By Jonathan Franzen - Summary Infographic