Freedom is what I’d call a meat and potatoes novel. It’s the story of a family. It’s a linear narrative. It follows traditional story arcs and takes care to develop its characters. But it does all of this in such an elevated way that you’d think your mom collaborated with a Michelin chef to prepare your favorite childhood meal: you know you’re experiencing something unique, but it also tastes like home.


The best writing illuminates sentiments that you have felt, but articulates them with such clarity that you pump your fist in the air when you recognize your self on the page, and think, “Yes! This is exactly what I too would say if I was clever enough.” Like:

By almost any standard, she led a luxurious life. She had all day every day to figure out some decent and satisfying way to live, and yet all she ever seemed to get for her choices and all her freedom was more miserable (181).

Freedom is the story of a marriage, a family, the new upper-middle class liberal America, growing old in the aughts, growing up in general. Specifically it’s the story of Walter and Patti, two college sweethearts who marry and settle down as part of the early gentrifier wave in St. Paul, Minneapolis.

I know I’m lavishing praise here, but it really is a novel to reckoned with. The sentences are crisp, the story moves with purpose, and the characters are real to any reader, not just those who personify their demographics. It’s also an angry book, raging against the state of the world as well as how today’s young people choose to engage with it:

The nation was fighting ugly ground wars in two countries, the planet was heating up like a toaster oven, and here at the 9:30, all around him, were hundreds of kids in the mold of the banana-bread-baking Sarah, with their sweet yearning, their innocent entitlement–to what? To emotion (369).

You know that term “actor’s actor?” This book is like a novel’s novel. It’s got all of the strength and wisdom of the classics with all the potent immediacy of a newspaper.


I give it up, everyone in 2010! You were right!!
(In my defense, I had was #318 on the request list for the SF Library so that is why it took me so long.)