zooming in on details


Franzen is at his best when zooming in on details of the material world, depicting youthfully exclusive advances in telephoning, texting and emailing etiquette, for example: “You don’t understand that your phone is very, very different from your e-mail”, Walter’s exasperated daughter scolds him. “I have friends who hardly even check their e-mail anymore.” He is a brilliant and funny observer of physical movement, facial nuance, hand signals, tones of voice that register the opposite of what the speaker is trying to convey. Freedom contains many virtuoso passages, so many, indeed, that one is subject to the ungrateful suspicion that Franzen can weave the stuff by the yard. Conversations which ought to have concluded business with a snappy exchange are allowed to wander over three or four pages – another form of “American sprawl”. Some readers will be drawn by the naturalism, which has been promoted as a relief from the more arduous approach of writers such as Don DeLillo, others may be attracted by the new-fangled scientific expertise, while yet others will respond to the darkness of Joey thanking Connie “for fucking somebody else”, even as they contemplate marriage.

more from James Campbell at the TLS here.