21 July 2010

The Corrections

So, I feel kinda like a heel.  I never read Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections; I never read it because Oprah said she liked it and I ran full-tilt in the other direction.  Never mind Franzen didn't want to be on Oprah.  It was too much pop culture, tabloid sniping for my taste (I wasn't in the mood for pop culture when I was in grad school).  Not long ago I read Reading With Oprah and the idea that I never read The Corrections niggled in the back of my head.  Franzen's novel received the National Book Award in 2001 so it was probably pretty good...hmmm.  I got to pick the June book for our little booksellers bookclub so I decided to choose The Corrections.

I'm really glad I finally read The Corrections because it really is an interesting look at a middle class family.  Everyone in this family needs to take their blinders off.  Alfred is caught in the downward spiral of senile dementia; he can't relinquish his rigid, 1950s-derived concepts of family and behavior.  Enid is concerned with the facade of presenting a happy nuclear family to the neighbors.  Gary is unable to acknowledge his own mental and marital problems.  Chip's academic cocoon has burst and he's on a path toward self-destruction.  Denise doesn't know what she wants but she knows it's not "this" ("this" being "not her mother").

Every character in this family is completely incapable of having an honest conversation with another member of the family without resorting to gossip/spying/sneaking around behind people's backs.

The Corrections was hard to get into.  I realy liked Franzen's style but the timeline Franzen uses is one of these oddball, post-modernist ones where you jump back and forth and between characters without a good chronology.  It took me until about halfway through Chip's introduction to understand how the book was structured; after that I was good. 

While I both liked (and hated, I wanted to slap all of them least once during the book) the characters, I really think Franzen did his best when characterizing Alfred.  Alfred is an intelligent man, a disciplined man, who cares deeply for his family (even though he really has trouble expressing any deep feelings to anyone).  As he descends into dementia the vivid hallucinations are wonderfully rendered.  Although it's only a fictional representation, the possibility that I could wind up like Alfred (that we ALL could wind up like Alfred) - concerned about a roving piece of feces and destined for sedatives and a nursing home - is terrifying.  I really have to re-read The Corrections because I feel like I missed a great deal on just one reading.

(By the way, there is a fantastically hilarious scene where Chip is in a grocery store and it underscores just how desperate Chip has become in trying to keep up appearances.)

Current book-in-progress: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Current knitted item: blue shawl (I am almost done!)
Current movie obsession: You've Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: The Five Browns


  1. I have this book, but I haven't managed to read it yet. I wasn't even entirely sure what it was about, just that it was supposed to be good. Now I'm really interested! I'll have to pick it up soon, but I'll keep in mind that it's confusing at first.

    Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

  2. @Meghan - Franzen doesn't use dates so it's hard to get a good reference on what each character is doing at a certain point in time (Franzen spends a long time on each character before switching to a different character's perspective) but the timelines converge about 100 pages from the end

  3. Anonymous5:26 PM

    I have a similar reaction to Oprah when it comes to books. My face contorted in a most unpleasant fashion when I discovered that a book I recently bought was an Oprah book club pick (the edition I bought didn't have the seal). I'm trying not to be that way. I've had The Corrections on my shelf for a few years now. You've got me interested in it again.

  4. I finally read this one this year, but I wasn't a fan. Parts were hilarious and well written, but I couldn't make myself like any of the characters. They were all so selfish!