Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Corrections – A Review

I love a book that makes me think about life in a new way. Heck, I like a book that makes me think, period. Jonathan Franzen’s book, The Corrections had me doing as much thinking as reading and that's a good thing.

The Corrections is the first novel of Franzen’s that I’ve read. It was his third novel, published in 2001, won the National Book Award that year and finished in the running for the Pulitzer. That’s not why I read it. I knew none of that before looking it up on Wikipedia just now. I read it because it was my book club’s selection. Sue me. I’m guilty of being led to the trough and told what to eat. Better than not reading at all, right? And, to tell the truth, I was fairly impressed by this Franzen fellow.

A satirical family drama, The Corrections weaves in and out of the lives of three siblings. Chip, the down-on-his-luck artist/thinker type. Gary, the successful/manic depressive banker with three kids and a wife who is manipulative. And, Denise, the on-again-off-again lesbian chef. Binding these three together are their parents, Enid and Alfred. Alfred is suffering from early stage Parkinson’s, depression, and a host of other ailments. Enid is intolerant of her husband’s ailments and believes if he would just try harder to follow the doctor’s orders, he would be fine. She lives in a dream world while her husband slowly loses his own grasp of reality.

The stories of the three siblings are all relatively fantastic to a degree. Chip has a relationship with a student that forces him out of his job. He then hooks up with his ex-lover’s ex-husband and jets off to Lithuania to wreak havoc on unsuspecting American investors. Yeah…it’s a bit of a stretch. Gary has a battle of wills with his wife and himself over the possibility that he may be mentally unstable. He loses, but not before he nearly cuts his hand off trying to trim hedges while intoxicated. Denise ruins the perfect job by sleeping with his boss’s wife…then sleeping with her boss…and back again. Yeah, that’ll get you fired in a heartbeat.

Throughout it all, though, Franzen digs down into the heart and soul of everyday people. He manages to expose little nuances of life despite the near-ridiculous circumstances (Chip makes a brilliant realization about his screenplay in progress in the middle of a car wreck). He’s a word maven who knows how to elicit a thought process that perhaps takes you in directions not considered before.

In the end, the book brings all of the participants back to one last improbable Christmas at home and a semi-happy ending ensues. It’s not the story that will stay with me. It’s the emotions and responses to life that I’ll remember.

At 568 pages, the book is no slouch and there are certainly times that the story drags a bit. But, it’s a family drama. It’s satire. Like real life, it has its ups and downs. If that’s your cup of tea, The Corrections is worth your time.


  1. I thought the ending was a huge downer. I read it during Christmas time last year and I found myself wrapped into my reading BIG TIME. This is more challenging and questioning than empowering (I'm reading The Executioner's Song right now, which is all three), but this is a novel that feels real and that must've been a pain to write.

    I loved every second of it despite that it knocked me on my ass.

  2. I think Franzen sets it up to be a lot worse than it ended up being. I think he pulls back and allows Alfred to take all of the family's pain, confusion, and suffering; sort of like a savior figure. I agree that it must've been a pain to write. It seems like no line was completed without serious thought.

    Thanks for the comment!