You will have heard that Freedom is the novel of the decade – “the green American novel” dealing with our climate change consciousness. Author Jonathan Franzen is supposedly our age’s Zola or Bellow, skewering our culture like a kabob, including The Nature Conservancy, where one of the main characters is a former fundraiser.
You may also have heard that the protagonists are petty and annoying, that the plot meanders, that Franzen is getting far too much attention. It’s all true — and none of it prepares you for the astonishing experience of actually reading the book, which you will do in great gulps, amazed at how Franzen is making you breathlessly obsessed with this venal, grasping, irritating, and very typical middle-class American family.
It’s called empathy. Not affection, but a improbable, creeping identiﬁcation — that you, however much I dislike you, are also somehow like me, which is scary and humbling. Upon such feelings is civilization built.
Robert Lalasz is director of science communication at The Nature Conservancy
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