Study Guide

Freedom Book 3, Chapter 3

By Jonathan Franzen

Book 3, Chapter 3

The Nice Man's Anger

  • Walter and Lalitha are in West Virginia.
  • Walter is angry, but it seems these days he's always angry.
  • He gets particularly angry while driving. So Lalitha is driving instead. But she drives like a maniac too: fast and reckless.
  • Lalitha wants to celebrate. She thinks the two of them should get drunk.
  • Early that day, they'd signed the documents finalizing the deal between the Trust and the coal companies. It'll open up 14,000 acres to mountaintop removal immediately, and then be set aside as a wilderness reserve.
  • Walter is feeling very negative – cynical and remorseful – about the whole thing.
  • It has been very difficult to finalize the deal. The last sticking point was a group of families – led by a guy named Coyle Mathis – who refused to leave their houses. The Trust made them very generous offers, of cash and relocation, but they still wouldn't budge (understandably, since they'd lived there for generations).
  • Walter and Lalitha had gone to meet Mathis once. Walter called the guy stupid, and the thing devolved from there. Lalitha had to defuse the situation on her own.
  • The bright idea that ends the impasse is an unexpected one. LBI, a big oil services multinational, has a contract to provide (long overdue) body armor to troops in Iraq.
  • A deal has been made through which the Trust will subsidize LBI to hire these West Virginians to manufacture that body armor. And they'll be relocated to another town, thus making way for the bulldozers.
  • So now the deal is done and they're preparing for a big press conference that Walter will give on Monday.
  • He agrees to drink a beer with Lalitha later that night. He's actually never had a drink in his life.
  • It's become increasingly difficult to travel with Lalitha. They sleep in separate hotel rooms, but the tension is horrible.
  • Before he left for this trip, Patty had told Walter that he had her "permission" (that is, to sleep with Lalitha) (3.3.102). He says he doesn't know what she's talking about, and whatever she's talking about, he doesn't want it.
  • He tells her he loves her. Then he wonders: "How many thousand more times [...] am I going to let this woman stab me in the heart?" (3.3.109)
  • He reflects on Patty's shortcomings, and how much better a person Lalitha is than Patty. This can't end well.
  • He gets an email from Richard Katz. He reflects on Richard's shortcomings as well.
  • Then they go out to a chain restaurant for dinner. Lalitha drinks 2.5 gin martinis way too quickly, while Walter nurses a beer.
  • Lalitha gets drunk and the conversation quickly turns to her being in love with him.
  • Walter trips over himself trying to respond appropriately.
  • Then he goes to the bathroom, where he gets accosted by a racist local man angry at him for appearing in public with "that n***** girl" Lalitha (3.3.178).
  • Walter avoids the local racist and goes back to the table. Lalitha is wasted. Walter tries to explain some more the difficulty of his situation (other than getting accosted in public): he's married, he loves his wife, the usual.
  • She can barely sit up straight. He gets their food to go. The racist guy assaults him on the way out too, pushing him into a glass door.
  • Walter manages to escape and he carries Lalitha back to the hotel. He tucks her into bed and paces the room.
  • He turns on the TV. There's something about John Kerry's war record, part of the 2004 presidential campaign.
  • Walter worries about getting the "anti-overpopulation" festival together as soon as possible, so they can convince all the liberal college students to sign up with them, before they go work for the Kerry campaign instead.
  • Walter is consumed by thought of the planet's approaching environmental catastrophes. He hates radio, hates TV, hates just about everything.
  • His phone rings. It's Jessica, his daughter.
  • She tells him a story about a skeezy boss hitting on his co-workers, which knocks some sense into him about just how much younger than him Lalitha is.
  • He checks his email, and there's a message from a New York Times reporter, who somehow has gotten tipped off about their supposedly secret deal (not to be divulged until the Monday press conference). There had been an article in the paper that morning.
  • He calls Patty. They argue.
  • This reminds him of a previous argument, when he'd discovered the monthly $500 checks she'd been sending to Joey behind his (Walter's) back. Which turned into an argument about how she should get a job, to have something to do with her days (besides give away his money).
  • And then there was another argument, when she took the job at the gym, about that particular job not being appropriate. And another argument, about her thinking about getting a boob job (totally wrong "job," Patty).
  • Finally he goes to sleep.
  • The next morning, he and Lalitha wake at 4am and eat breakfast at a truck stop across the street. Then they get into the car to drive to Forster Hollow, where mining will commence.
  • While they're putting their seatbelts on, Lalitha suddenly grabs Walter and kisses him. He kisses her back. They kiss with crazy passion and abandon!
  • Lalitha asks him if he might be in love with her. He says yes.
  • They drive to Forster Hollow. The mining companies have sneakily arrived earlier than they were supposed to. Also, environmental activists have blocked the road, and Walter and Lalitha are unable to pass.
  • (Walter discovers in passing that one of the activists, Jocelyn Zorn, leaked the story to the Times.)
  • A big argument – and literal roadblock – ensues, between their rental car and the activists' blockade and the miners' bulldozers.
  • Walter gets really angry and Lalitha orders him to get back in the car and once again she solves the problem.
  • Walter and Lalitha drive away. When they have cell phone reception again, Walter's phone rings. It's his son Joey, saying he's in some trouble. Walter says, "Hey, so am I! So is everybody!" (3.3.459).

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