I finished Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom.

All the relationships in the novel (between lovers, between parents and kids, between siblings, and between friends) were screwed up. People fought, competed, and betrayed each other. People yearned to be free of dysfunctional relationships.

Franzen showed how dysfunction was passed down through generations. He described the struggles and mistakes of the parents and grandparents of the main characters.

People made stupid choices when young (about school, about roommates, and about lovers) and had to live with the consequences for years afterwards.

Everyone was neurotic, selfish and greedy.

Just like real life, I thought.

I mentioned the open-eyed cynicism/realism of the novel to some coworkers. One coworker said, “Yeah, this world is fallen.” Another said, “I’m sick of my husband.” I responded, “Too much information!”

For many people, work is the sanest part of their lives. But some workplaces are war zones too, and many managers make bad decisions.

To some extent, the novel was a glorified soap opera. I cringed at the mistakes the characters made in their lives. But the central characters changed over time, and in the end love and friendship triumphed — sortof. The characters were imperfect but they weren’t sadistic and they did have some tender feelings.

A common theme in the novel is the differences in outlook between conservatives and liberals: how political views affect personal lives. Franzen — like the main characters in the novel — is clearly a liberal, but it seems that the liberals suffer more than the conservatives.

This leads me to suggest a research topic: do liberals suffer more than conservatives?

Perhaps liberals suffer more than conservatives because (1) liberals have a conscience; (2) Liberals live in reality, unlike conservatives who live in a fantasy land, and (3) liberals typically lack religious faith, which can be a solace. Perhaps liberals are more neurotic. Are they more often single?