The cliff notes for this work will be to the point, just outskirting the bare bones of the storyline because the text is so very, very rich, cliff notes cannot do it justice. SPOILER ALERT OK – you’re warned.
Patty, Walter and Richard are the key players in Freedom, friends from College. Patty starts hanging out with Walter in the hope of seeing his friend Richard, one of those guys that defies society, is a musician, very attractive sex god type. Walter is the safe, supporting his family while in college, environmentally friendly earthy type. Patty is an elite college athlete who injures her knee and is unable to pursue her sporting career, but all she ever wanted was to be a mother anyway. There is strong unresolved sexual tension between Patty and Richard.
So Patty, Walter and Richard grow up. Patty and Walter marry and have two children, Joey and Jessica, and Richard goes on to become a moderately famous musician touring and womanising his life away. But he falls on hard times, and
through a twist of fate, Walter and Patty have a lake house that needs fixing up which Walter offers to Richard, rent free, if he fixes it up. Eventually the sexual tension between Patty and Richard is resolved here at the lakehouse, one day short of Richard completing the entire renovation works.
Herein sets a deep depression of Patty, feeling guilty for betraying Walter, and anguished because she can’t be with Richard. Richard also is tormented and leaves his music career to build decks. Walter carries on with his political and environmental pursuits none the wiser, but suspicious nonetheless.
As we move forward, Patty has been a deep depressive state for 5 years, and Walter has a new 27 year old assistant Lalitha, of course in love with him, and when Walter wants Richard to become involved in one of his campaigns, Patty gives Richard a manuscript of her autobiography which explains how she feels about ‘everything’ and Richard leaves it for Walter to read. Devastated that Patty could betray him in such a way, he throws her out of the house and sleeps with Lalitha and begins their relationship.
Patty moves in with Richard. Walter is beyond bitter about Patty and Richard, but begins to find a true love with Lalitha. Patty eventually moves on from Richard and finds her skill in teaching.
Lalitha is tragically killed in a car accident and so begins Walter isolation at the lake house for 6 years, during which time not a word is spoken between Walter and Patty.
Patty completes her autobiographical manuscript and has it delivered to Walter, who refuses to read it, and Richard sends him a CD filled with songs dedicated to him.
Patty turns up at the lake house, waiting for him in the icy night and eventually becomes hypothermic. Walter allows her inside the house and tries to bring her back from the brink, succeeds, and a deep understanding of all that has happened between them, passes over them, and they re-unite.
That is the bare bones of the storyline but it by no means does this work any justice at ALL. There are several other storylines going on alongside, which illustrate the complex world we live in, in an acutely poignant body of work.
I laughed, cried, wept, despaired in the human race, the world in which we live, and the way in which we live in it, and yet walked away from this work, deeply moved for the human spirit, what drives it, how complex it is, how deep a man’s soul, and bottomless a woman’s heart.
Jonathan Franzen is utterly brilliant. Even though you may just want the storyline to know what all the Oprah book club fans are talking about, if you can, read this work - it’s a modern masterpiece.
And a video from the man himself – so eloquent as always
Another great written interview with Jonathan Franzen - have a cuppa ready – but it’s worth it