Study Guide

Freedom Book 3, Chapter 5

By Jonathan Franzen

Book 3, Chapter 5

Bad News

  • We return to Joey's world, two years after we last saw him.
  • Here's the surprising information we learn right off the bat:
  • He and Jonathan's sister Jenna have been talking and texting a lot over the past couple of years. And now he's made plans to go to Argentina with her, for a big horseback riding adventure. (She had been planning on going with her mother, but she broke her leg skiing and can't go.)
  • Jenna recently broke up with her boyfriend Nick once and for all.
  • He needs to go to Paraguay for business, so, you know, he'll be down there anyway.
  • Oh, and five months earlier, on a whim, he and Connie got married.
  • Make sense? No? Not to us either.
  • So obviously he's still cruelly dangling poor Connie. She's back in Minnesota again, and he's just deflecting all her attempts to live together, and go on a honeymoon, and have anything close to a real, healthy (married!) relationship.
  • Instead he's busy chasing Jenna, and chasing cash. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
  • The chapter begins with a brief summary of the situation, and then a pretty brutal phone call with Connie. She's seriously depressed.
  • Connie asks him if he's wearing his wedding ring, and he admits he isn't. She asks him to put it on. So he does, while they're on the phone. But then when they hang up, he puts it in his mouth and rolls it around with his tongue.
  • And then he swallows it.
  • He tries to vomit it up, but he can't.
  • So he walks to the emergency room.
  • On the way there, he passes the office building where he's been working: a subsidiary of LBI (yes, the same multinational supplying the body armor factory for Walter's displaced West Virginians) called Restore Iraqi Secular Enterprise Now (RISEN).
  • Joey's job has been "researching ways in which LBI might commercially exploit an American invasion and takeover of Iraq, and then writing up these commercial possibilities as arguments for invading" (3.5.55).
  • (The summer before this one, Joey had indeed ended up with a position at Jonathan's father's think tank.)
  • After a long wait in the emergency room, he finally gets in to see a doctor, who tells him he'll just have to wait until, you know, the ring comes out the other end.
  • Joey goes back to his apartment and tries to sleep. He has lots of memories. In fact, he has so many memories, that we'll just do a big flashback to two years ago, OK?
  • Flashback time:
  • Jonathan finally meets Connie, and he really likes her.
  • Joey has a phone conversation with his mother (Patty) in which she insists that in healthy relationships people need to get in (verbal) fights.
  • He remembers how much his mom hates Connie, even though Connie has always been so sweet to her. For some reason this reminds him of why he prefers the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.
  • We then run through all the chances he's had to break up with Connie.
  • The following Christmas, Joey goes out to Minnesota. Connie has started taking an antidepressant. Also, he talks to his mother on the phone and she too is on antidepressants. He wonders why all the women in his life are depressed, and wonder if it's maybe his fault.
  • Joey and Jonathan make a $100 bet about whether or not American forces would find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq by the end of the year. (Spoiler alert: they don't.)
  • Joey had assumed the people at the think tank were secretly interested in invading Iraq to protect Israel, but now he realizes it's probably more of a financial interest, like his own.
  • (Joey's particular area of research involves setting up bakeries in Iraq – something he obviously knows nothing about.)
  • He goes to his parents' place for the Fourth of July and has a big argument with Walter, mostly about the Iraq War. It concludes with Walter saying, "I don't even want to know what you're doing anymore. It makes me too sick" (3.5.160).
  • And throughout these two years, Jenna just keeps stringing him along, and being not-so-nice in general.
  • Then one night on the phone, Connie tells Joey two big things:
  • 1) She's stopped taking the antidepressant.
  • 2) She's started sleeping with the manager of her restaurant (a married guy, with two kids).
  • Joey is really hurt and angry... even though he himself has been unfaithful a bunch of times, and is of course still actively pursuing Jenna.
  • They don't speak for a few weeks.
  • Oh, and he gets a few more important phone calls: Patty calls to tell him she won't be sending any more $500 checks, as Walter had found out about them and isn't thrilled.
  • His aunt Abigail calls to offer him another cat-sitting opportunity.
  • His boss calls him with sort of a sketchy business opportunity: tracking down parts for an obscure outdated Polish truck the Americans are driving in Iraq: the Pladsky A10. There are parts in Eastern Europe and South America. If he can find some and ship them to Iraq, he'll make loads of money.
  • Oh, but first, he needs to come up with $50,000 to buy the parts in the first place.
  • So he calls Connie and tells her the situation, and Connie offers to give him the $50,000 saved up in her trust fund. He accepts.
  • A few days later, they meet in New York City. He notices small red scars on Connie's arm: she'd been cutting herself every night he hadn't called since she told him about her affair.
  • Caught in a whirlwind of crazy emotions, they get married. Joey almost backs out, but doesn't.
  • OK, and that brings us back to the present.
  • Joey's wedding ring is somewhere inside his intestines, and he's on his way to the VIP lounge at the airport to meet Jenna.
  • Jenna is very rude to him. When he finally calls her on it, she kisses him. Mixed signals!
  • They get to Argentina. They're staying in a super swanky resort hotel.
  • Jenna speaks great Spanish; Joey does not. She's an expert horseback rider; he is not. In short, he's miserable.
  • The first night, they drink lots of wine at dinner, and then go back to the room they're sharing. He is very drunk and is... unable to perform. They go to sleep.
  • The next morning, he feels his bowels move. So he rushes to the bathroom, preparing to locate his wedding ring somewhere within his excrement.
  • Oh, yes, it's an incredible scene – hilarious, disgusting, vindicating. He finds the ring. He almost vomits from the smell. Jenna is horrified.
  • That afternoon, he checks his voicemail. One message from Carol, Connie's mother, telling him Connie has confessed to her that they're married.
  • The second one is from his boss, Kenny, telling him he needs to get to Paraguay immediately.
  • He tells Jenna he has to leave. She is not happy about it. Actually, she's really quite mean about it.
  • Joey gets to Paraguay. It's a pretty sketchy situation, dealing with a sketchy guy who owns a sketchy military-supply business.
  • He takes Joey to a field strewn with Pladsky A10 parts. Parts are just everywhere. That's the good news. The bad news is that they're seriously rusted. Like, almost unusable.
  • Joey bargains him down to a good price, $20,000, and feels good about that. But he feels really terrible about selling such crappy parts to the U.S. military. Like, tremendously guilty.
  • He calls Connie for advice, but she only wants him to do what'll make him happy.
  • So he calls Jonathan for advice. Jonathan says definitely don't do it; that stuff is evil.
  • Then he calls Kenny and says it's rusty and he feels bad, and Kenny says he doesn't care because they'll still get paid.
  • Finally he calls the leadership at LBI, and tells them about the situation. They say they understand, but if he doesn't deliver the parts, he'll be in breach of his contract, so he really should do it.
  • So he does it. But then he calls Jonathan (who works for the Washington Post now) and asks if maybe he could act as a whistle-blower and tell the paper about the rusted parts and the dishonest no-bid contracts in Iraq.
  • Joey sinks into a deep depression, the first of his life. Connie comes to live with him, and supports them both while they wait for their $850,000 (!) to arrive.
  • And then we end this chapter the same place we ended Walter's last chapter, with Joey calling Walter and saying he's in trouble.

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