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Freedom
The Corrections

Freedom by Jonathan FranzenBook Cover of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world. But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become "a very different kind of neighbor," an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes? In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time(these comments are from the Publisher). Click here to read the full book review.


1. Jonathan Franzen refers to freedom throughout the novel, including the freedom of Iraqis to become capitalists, Joey's parents attempt to give him an unencumbered life, an inscription on a building at Jessica s college that reads USE WELL THY FREEDOM, and alcoholic Mitch, who is a free man. How do the characters spend their freedom? Is it a liberating or destructive force for them? Which characters are the least free?
2. Freedom contains almost cinematic descriptions of the characters dwelling places, from the house in St. Paul to Abigail's eclectic Manhattan apartment. How do the homes in Freedom reflect the personalities of their occupants? Where do Walter and Patty feel most at home? Which of your homes has been most significant in your life?
3. As a young woman, Patty is phenomenally strong on the basketball court yet vulnerable in relationships, especially with her workaholic parents, her friend Eliza, and the conflicted duo of Richard and Walter. What did her rapist, Ethan Post, teach her about vulnerability? After the rape, what did her father and the coaches attempt to teach her about strength?
4. What feeds Richard and Walter's lifelong cycle of competition and collaboration? If you were Patty, would you have made the road trip with Richard? What does Freedom say about the repercussions of college, not only for Walter and Patty but also for their children?
5. How would you characterize Patty's writing? How does her storytelling style compare to the narrator s voice in the rest of the novel? If Walter had written a memoir, what might he have said about his victories, and his suffering?
6. Which tragicomic passages in Freedom made you laugh? Which characters elicited continual sadness and sympathy in you? How does Franzen balance poignant moments with absurdity?
7. Discuss the nature of attraction, both in the novel and in your own experience. What does it take to be desirable in Freedom? In the novel, how do couples sustain intense attraction for each other over many phases of their lives?
8. Does history repeat itself throughout Walter's ancestry, with his Swedish grandfather, Einar, who built roads, loathed communism and slow drivers, and was cruel to his wife; his father, Gene, a war hero with fantasies of success in the motel business; and his mother, Dorothy, whose cosmopolitan family was Walter s salvation? What do all the characters in the novel want from their parents? How do their relationships with their parents affect their relationships with lovers?
9. After her father s death, Patty asks her mother why she ignored Patty s success in sports, even though Joyce was a driven woman who might have relished her daughter's achievements. She doesn't get a satisfactory answer; Joyce vaguely says that she wasn't into sports. Why do you think Patty did not garner as much attention as her sisters did? How did your opinion of Veronica and Abigail shift throughout the novel? Does Patty treat Jessica the same way her parents treated her?
10. How is Lalitha different from the other characters in the novel? How does her motivation for working with the Cerulean Mountain Trust compare to Walter's? Does Walter relate to the cerulean warbler on some level?
11. What accounts for the differences between Joey and Jessica? Is it simply a matter of genes and temperament, or does gender matter in their situation?
12. What does Joey want and get from Jenna and Connie? What do they want and get from him?
13. Did Carol and Blake evolve as parents? What sort of life do you predict for their twin daughters?
14. Near the end of the novel, Franzen describes Walter s relationship with Bobby the cat as a sort of troubled marriage. Was their divorce inevitable? When Patty is eventually able to serve as neighborhood peacemaker, even negotiating a truce with Linda Hoffbauer, what does this say about her role in Walter's life? Does she dilute his sense of purpose and principle, or does she keep him grounded in reality?
15. How would you answer the essential question raised by Walter's deal with the Texas rancher Vin Haven: What is the best way to achieve environmental conservation?
16. Consider the novel s epigraph, taken from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The lines are spoken by Paulina in the final act, after she learns the fate of her dead husband. She receives the news while surrounded by happy endings for the other characters. The most obvious parallel is to Walter, but who else might be reflected in these lines?
17. What unique truths emerge in Freedom? In what ways does this novel enhance themes (such as love and commitment, family angst, the intensity of adolescence, and the individual against the giant corporate, governmental, and otherwise) featured in Franzen's previous works, including his nonfiction?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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The Corrections by Jonathan FranzenBook Cover of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man-or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home. (From the publisher).

1. Consider the atmosphere of suburban St. Jude (named for the patron saint of hopeless causes) in comparison to the more sophisticated surroundings of Philadelphia and New York. Why has the Lamberts' neighborhood evolved into a gerontocratic refuge? "What Gary hated most about the Midwest was how unpampered and unprivileged he felt in it." What negative and positive qualities are attributed to the Midwest? How are the characters shaped by the cities or towns they live in?
2. What is the significance of "one last Christmas"? Is Enid's obsession with the holidays predictable for a mother of her generation or is it, as Gary fears, "a symptom of a larger malaise" ?
3. Why does it take so long for the Lamberts to acknowledge the seriousness of Alfred's illness? Is Al's deteriorating mental health solely a result of Parkinson's disease? How are his physical deterioration and mental decline linked? "Irresponsibility and undiscipline were the bane of his existence, and it was another instance of that Devil's logic that his own untimely affliction should consist of his body's refusal to obey him." Why are these ailments especially humiliating for Alfred?
4. What is the source of Gary and Caroline's marital problems? Whose version of the truth do you believe? Why does Gary feel so alienated from Caleb and Aaron? What draws him to Jonah? Compare this family with the glimpses we have of the young Lamberts. In what ways is Gary different, as a father, from Alfred?
5. What is your impression of Enid and Alfred's marriage? Which version of their marriage do you believe-Enid's image of Al as a pessimistic brooder or Al's image of Enid as an unrealistic optimist? In what ways do Enid's capacity for hope and Alfred's low expectations manifest themselves? How do their temperamental differences play out in the course of the narrative?
6. Discuss the alliances that formed in the Lambert family after the children left home. What occurrences might account for Denise's loyalty to Al and for Chip and Gary's sympathy for Enid? How do these alliances shift during the course of the novel?
7. Why does Denise choose to lose her virginity to Don Armour? Which qualities of her co-worker simultaneously attract and repel her? Why does Al sacrifice his job for Denise's privacy?
8. What is the significance of the title The Corrections? How does the idea of "corrections" play out during the course of the story? What does "What made correction possible also doomed it" mean?
9. What is revealed about the dynamics of the young Lambert family during the liver dinner? When Al finds Chip asleep at the dinner table, what upsets him more: concern for his son or disgust with Enid? Do we know the source of Enid's neglect? "There was something almost tasty and almost sexy in letting the annoying boy be punished by her husband." To what extent are the book's children shaped by their upbringing, and to what extent is their character predetermined?
10. What do Chip's relationships with women reveal about his character? How does his attitude toward women change over the course of the novel? Considering the details of his earlier relationships, does it seem probable that his marriage to Alison Schulman will survive? How did his time in Lithuania prepare Chip to deal with Alfred's decline and death?
11. Is Alfred's death the key to Enid's happiness? How does the quality of her life change once Al is hospitalized? What reaction do his children have to his death? Are we meant to believe that their father's death is the catalyst for their "corrections" ? For how much of the unhappiness in the Lambert household was Al responsible?
12. Are elements of the Lambert family universal characteristics of the American family? How do the world in general and family life in particular change during the half century that the novel spans? In what ways is life better now than when the Lambert children were young? In what ways is it worse?
13. Which character has undergone the most fundamental change? Is the change positive or negative? Have any of the characters evolved enough for their "corrections" to endure? Are these corrections deliberate, or are they the result of outside occurrences that force the characters to change?
14. Discuss the different moral codes members of the Lambert family adhere to. Consider Enid's fear of her children's "immorality," Gary's obsession with Caroline's dishonesty, Alfred's refusal to engage in insider trading, Denise's rage at Gary for having betrayed the sibling code of honor, and Chip's animus against the W Corporation and big business in general. Which of these judgments seem most valid? Does the book favor one moral view over another?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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