The hype has been a bit overwhelming and the praise sometimes hyperbolic, but Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), his long-awaited follow-up to 2001's The Corrections, is an engrossing, old-fashioned yet Zeitgeisty (thus anxious) novel whose nearly 600 pages buzz by and will quite likely be finished too late at night. It's set largely in the Twin Cities and northern Minnesota, and centers on the initially under-passionate, eventually rancorous marriage of Patty and Walter Berglund, she a college basketball star who comes unhinged when her kids reach adolescence, he a lawyer-conservationist and borderline crackpot who gets mixed up in the rather absurdly corrupt establishment of a bird sanctuary. Also lurking about is a terminally hip rocker whose wide-ranging interest in women includes Patty. Not everything in the book makes perfect psychological sense, but on the whole the characters and their environs are very finely observed, and Franzen's wit and depth of feeling make their painful world a pleasure to be in.
Tue., Sept. 21, 7 p.m., 2010