America is largely estranged from its past, with cliques of commuters staying in tight circles, communicating, if at all, by text messaging. We hardly talk to our neighbors anymore, or even know their names. So it's understandable that shows like "Desperate Housewives" captivates viewers, and families like the Berglunds in FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen fascinate those with missing (or boring) families of their own. Franzen's first novel "The Corrections" was a masterpiece, and this followup, almost a decade later, is only on par with the novels of Philip Roth and others. (Which is not to say it's not worth the effort. Certainly one masterpiece in the life of a writer is rare enough. Only the very best of all time penned more than one. Hemingway and Faulkner, for example, had two.) In this followup we experience the travails of Patty and Walter, along with their wayward son Joey, and Walter's best friend, who, although his prospects have dimmed, still has a thing for Walter's wife. There's a lot of tension here between right wing and left wing factions of their neighborhood, with embattled compromises being made everywhere, and self doubt rampant. Franzen seems to be saying, through his characters, that we're all trying to cope with our conscience in a confusing and greedy age to find a path that we can live with, and in the process we're not always logical or even sane. This is not Wisteria Lane, thankfully, or mere pseudo intellectual soap opera; it's a carefully crafted examination of where we are (at least psychologically), and how, if we can get past nearly melting down over the neighbor's stupidity and the requirements of culture (as Patty almost does), we might have a shot at a meaningful life. Narrator on the audio version is actor David Ledoux, who infuses the characters with a pathos and urgency that's more chronicle than melodrama. As it should be.