by Jonathan Franzen
Freedom Book 3, Chapter 2 Summary
How It All Goes Down
- Hey, look, it's Joey Berglund! Finally, after hearing so much about him, we get to see what this kid is really all about.
- As Joey begins his first year at the University of Virginia, he reflects on what a charmed life he has had. For eighteen years now, everything has just seemed to work out in his favor.
- At college, things continue in this same way for about a month… and then September 11th happens.
- This seems to Joey to be a great injustice – almost like a personal slight against Joey himself.
- (Does this sound a little weird to you too?)
- The next few weeks, when everyone else in America is feeling a real sense of connection and togetherness, Joey just feels bitter and alone.
- So he calls Connie and gives her "permission" to "take a Greyhound bus to come visit him in Charlottesville, thereby undoing a summer's worth of spadework to prepare her for their inevitable breakup" (3.2.3).
- See, Joey had been so sure he'd meet someone better at college, and Connie would just be a distant memory back in Minnesota.
- But 9/11 changes all of this.
- So Connie hops on that bus. They smoke lots of pot and end up talking about her future. Joey encourages her to go to college, try to get started on a career.
- Connie is pretty unhealthily devoted to Joey, and tells him she'll do whatever he tells her to do, and the only reason she'll do it is because he wants her to.
- Then Joey decides that, once she leaves, they shouldn't talk for at least a week. And, you guessed it – she consents to whatever he says.
- Joey immerses himself in the collegiate social scene. He makes friends with guys "from prosperous families who believed in carpet bombing the Islamic world until it learned to behave itself. He wasn't right-wind himself but was comfortable with those who were" (3.2.27).
- A few weeks later, Connie's mother Carol calls. She scolds him for ignoring her daughter, saying that Connie has sunken into a deep depression (sleeping all day, not eating, etc.).
- Carol gives him a big guilt trip (deservedly so) for treating them so poorly after he'd lived with them for two years (for Pete's sake!), and being practically married to Connie all these years.
- She also mentions that she (Carol) is pregnant.
- Carol insists that Joey come out to spend Thanksgiving with them in St. Paul.
- Joey refuses, and then goes outside and sits down on a bench and cries a little in the dark.
- Then he calls his mother (a.k.a. Patty). Seems like it's been a long time since he's called his parents too.
- They try to make small-talk. It's all just awkward.
- Patty asks if Joey needs money, and he says yes. She says she'll send him a check made out to "Cash," so that Walter won't know.
- She wants to tell him something really important, about love, but he cuts her off and hangs up. Brutal. And yet not surprising.
- Joey goes back to his dorm and cries some more, and recalls what it was like living with Carol and Blake. In particular, he remembers the insightful ridicule Connie had for Blake. Although she's quiet and sullen, he knows she's actually really smart.
- Next he recalls some pivotal moments from his relationship with his mom: like when she told him the story about Eliza, and when she told him the story about being date-raped.
- He also remembers when his grandmother died and he behaved so obviously cruelly (even to himself).
- Joey goes back to his dorm room and chats with his roommate, Jonathan. Joey mentions in passing that his grandmother is Jewish (which means, since Judaism runs through matrilineal descent, that Joey is Jewish as well).
- Jonathan is really excited, and says now that his family is going to love him even more. (They've made plans for Joey to spend Thanksgiving with his family.) Also, they argue a little bit about Israel/Palestine.
- The next day, Joey is sitting around trying to decide whether or not to call Connie. While still deciding, he goes onto Jonathan's computer and uploads a couple of photos of Jonathan's hot older sister Jenna.
- The he calls Connie. She sounds better than Carol described her, but admits she's been depressed.
- She tells him he can sleep with other girls if he wants. Then they have phone sex.
- From then on, Joey and Connie speak on the phone much more often (wink, wink).
- Then it's Thanksgiving, and Joey and Jonathan take Jonathan's fancy SUV to his family's house.
- Jonathan's dad, it's important to note, is "the founder and luminary president of a think tank devoted to advocating the unilateral exercise of American military supremacy to make the world freer and safer, especially for America and Israel" (3.2.314).
- He'd been on TV a lot recently, and in the Op-Ed sections of newspapers, railing against "the menace of radical Islam" (3.2.314).
- The house is huge, and ridiculously opulent. They're really rich.
- The boys go down to the basement and play billiards. Jonathan's sister Jenna comes downstairs, and Joey immediately realizes she's the most beautiful girl he's ever seen (but it's described in much less bland, hackneyed terms than that – we just thought we'd cut to the chase).
- The three of them make plans to drive to Manhattan in two days, and stay at Jenna's boyfriend's apartment. (The boyfriend, Nick, works for the investment bank Goldman Sachs, and is off in Singapore on business.)
- At Thanksgiving dinner the next night, Jonathan's father holds court: "He referred to members of the President's cabinet by their first names, explaining how 'we' had been 'leaning on' the President to exploit this unique historical moment to resolve an intractable geopolitical deadlock and radically expand the sphere of freedom" (3.2.374).
- He also argues that it is OK to manipulate the truth about Iraq's nuclear capabilities – in the name of a greater purpose, of course.
- Joey, keen to impress Jenna, speaks up at the dinner table, mildly challenging him on this point but in the end agreeing that he's right.
- After dinner, Jonathan's dad comes to the basement to talk to Joey more: asking him his career plans, and encouraging him to apply for a job at his think tank.
- After this conversation, Jonathan turns on Joey. He's really angry with him for sucking up to his dad. He's basically a jerk from here on out.
- The next morning, Joey calls his mom's sister Abigail, whom he's never met. He says he's going to be in New York, and maybe they can get together. She agrees.
- Then the kids all drive to New York. (Yup, Jonathan's still being a jerk.)
- Joey goes out walking around midtown Manhattan by himself. Lonely once again, he calls Connie on the phone. (Seeing a pattern here?)
- The next morning, Joey and Jenna wake up first, and Joey manages to charm her at least a little bit.
- She admits that her number one priority in life is to be really rich.
- Next we jump ahead four weeks (i.e., now we're at Christmastime), and Joey is house-sitting for his aunt Abigail in Greenwich Village.
- (We're briefly brought up to speed on their initial meeting, in which she is mostly as Patty described her: eccentric, bitter, and self-centered.)
- Then she goes away and asks Jonathan to stay at her apartment and take care of her cats. (There's also a totally gross problem with the drains coughing up sewage, but we'll skip right past that part.)
- He plans to stay there two weeks, drainage problem or not.
- Eventually, Joey calls his parents and tells them where he is. As you might expect, they're furious.
- Once again alone in the apartment, Joey doesn't know what to do with himself: so he downloads pornography, masturbates, and drinks brandy.
- Then he calls Connie and asks her to come join him. (Guess what she says!)
- She shows up the next day, and admits she just quit her job. Also that she told Patty she was coming to see him. And, finally, that she's thinking of applying to some colleges close to Joey's, so they can see each other more often.
- It turns out she has a trust fund in her name, from her deadbeat father, with lots money in it.
- Joey tries to talk her out of applying to all those schools. She asks him why he doesn't want her near him. He tries to deny it.
- They have more sex. Then Joey receives an e-mail from Jenna, and reads it over and over again. He feels very dirty, and thinks of the e-mail as being very clean.
- Then Connie walks over naked holding a joint and Joey smokes it.
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