Oprah's Book Club producer Jill reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Photo credit: Jennifer Troyer
Welcome to assignment 5 of our book discussion of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. We're covering "Bad News" (pages 382–442) from our reading schedule.

At this point in the novel, I'd like to discuss two characters we haven't covered before, Joey and Connie. Joey is the smart—maybe too smart—son of Patty and Walter who moved out of the house as a teenager in defiance of his parents. Conveniently, he moved in just next door with his girlfriend, Connie, with whom he'd been sexually involved for several years. In this section, we discover that after separation and infidelity, the two finally get married but keep it a secret.

I found the pair much like many youth (and in stark contrast to Joey's sister, Jessica)—self-indulgent and immature. I could admire Joey's cocky self-confidence knowing that it could take him into arenas he was not prepared to handle. But Connie's dependency annoyed me to no end. Now, if I were to ask myself why, I'd have to say because I did everything I could not to be that girl—the type of woman whose whole worldview revolved around someone else. But, by the end of the chapter, she does get what she wants: a husband who realizes he's truly devoted to her.

"And it was a strange thing to feel, but he definitely felt it: when he emerged from the bathroom with the ring on his ring finger...he was a different person. He was the person who'd handled his own shit to get his wedding ring back. This wasn't the person he'd thought he was, or would have chosen to be if he'd been free to choose, but there was something comforting and liberating about being an actual definite someone, rather than a collection of contradictory potential someones." (page 432)
So I ask you, is "handling your own shit" a metaphor for a success for marriage? How? Is Connie happy in love, or was her devotion to Joey a way of avoiding her own issues and fears? Did Joey marry a version of his mother, Patty? What do you think ultimately makes a marriage successful?

What do you think? Share your comments below!