Freedom, By Jonathan Franzen

My family and other disasters

Rarely has a book been so eagerly anticipated as this follow-up to Jonathan Franzen's 2001 award-winner The Corrections.

Pre-publicity gorged at details of eccentric writing practice, and fellow authors prepared to do battle with the reading public in bookshop queues. Franzen's earlier novel was heralded as the rebirth of the "family novel" – as though Joyce Carol Oates, Jodi Picoult and others had spent most of their writing lives penning words about inter-galactic vampires. But the way that Franzen was taken up as the "family" author par excellence is relevant for this latest novel, too.

Freedom charts the marriage of Patty and Walter Berglund, from Patty's initial adolescent crush on Walter's room-mate, the sexy but unreliable Richard Katz; through the rejection of his parents by their son, Joey, in preference for the girl next-door, Connie, and her vaguely white-trash, Republican-voting family; to betrayal on both sides, as Patty and Richard finally begin an affair, and Walter is physically desired for the first time in his life.

If the Freudian family romance has violence at its heart, then Franzen is sticking to the rules and his breathless prose can offer nothing subversive or new to say. What he is, is seductive – my, is he seductive – and it's impossible to look away from the relationships car crash that is occurring, with horrible psychological believability, before your eyes.