I am reluctantly giving this one three stars, because I found it very thought provoking. It is a story that will stay with you, although you really can't stand the characters, and find them highly selfish and disfunctional, and yet you keep reading (or listening) because you want things to work out in the end. Franzen examines the theme of freedom through the often agonizing choices (mostly bad) made by the members of an affluent liberal midwestern family. At the same time he is giving us a very satirical look at contempory America and our obsession with personal liberty at the expense of everyone and every thing around us. The more we seek to be "free", the more unhappy and disillusioned we become. The personal plays out against history in a kind of parallel breakdown of what it is that holds us together as families and as a nation. Freedom is explored from every possible angle: sexual freedom, the "freedom" of having lots of money, the freedom of divorce, suicide as freedom from pain and despair, and even the mundane choice of letting pet cats roam free outdoors without regard for their bird-loving neighbors. Although he borders on becoming preachy at times, it is clear that this is a carefully crafted novel.
Description: Before now, Patty and Walter Berglund were living a great life - Walter, an environmental lawyer and dedicated family man, and Patty, the perfect wife. But their carefully crafted tapestry of a home with their two children has begun to unravel. Their son Joey is obsessed with the Republican neighbors, with whom Patty is feuding. The presence of Walter's best friend is making Patty divulge eager attentions elsewhere than to her husband. And Walter's moral compromises at work are beginning to haunt him.