Jonathan Franzen's exhilarating novel The Corrections tells a spellbinding story with sexy comic brio, and evokes a quirky family akin to Anne Tyler's, only bitter. Franzen's great at describing Christmas homecomings gone awry, cruise-ship follies, self-deluded academics, breast-obsessed screenwriters, stodgy old farts and edgy Tribeca bohemians equally at sea in their lives, and the mad, bad, dangerous worlds of the Internet boom and the fissioning post-Soviet East.
All five members of the Lambert family get their due, as everybody's lives swirl out of control. Paterfamilias Alfred is slipping into dementia, even as one of his inventions inspires a pharmaceutical giant to revolutionize treatment of his disease. His stubborn wife, Enid, specializes in denial; so do their kids, each in an idiosyncratic way. Their hepcat son, Chip, lost a college sinecure by seducing a student, and his new career as a screenwriter is in peril. Chip's sister, Denise, is a chic chef perpetually in hot water, romantically speaking; banker brother Gary wonders if his stifling marriage is driving him nuts. We inhabit these troubled minds in turn, sinking into sorrow punctuated by laughter, reveling in Franzen's satirical eye:
Gary in recent years had observed, with plate tectonically cumulative anxiety, that population was continuing to flow out of the Midwest and toward the cooler coasts.... Gary wished that all further migration [could] be banned and all Midwesterners encouraged to revert to eating pasty foods and wearing dowdy clothes and playing board games, in order that a strategic national reserve of cluelessness might be maintained, a wilderness of taste which would enable people of privilege, like himself, to feel extremely civilized in perpetuity.
Franzen is funny and on the money. This book puts him on the literary map. --Tim Appelo
"Winner of the National Book Award After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man-or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home."
Jonathan Franzen's third novel, The Corrections, is a great work of art and a grandly entertaining overture to our new century: a bold, comic, tragic, deeply moving family drama that stretches from the Midwest at mid-century to Wall Street and Eastern Europe in the age of greed and globalism. Franzen brings an old-time America of freight trains and civic duty, of Cub Scouts and Christmas cookies and sexual inhibitions, into brilliant collision with the modern absurdities of brain science, home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare, and the anti-gravity New Economy. With The Corrections, Franzen emerges as one of our premier interpreters of American society and the American soul.Enid Lambert is terribly, terribly anxious. Although she would never admit it to her neighbors or her three grown children, her husband, Alfred, is losing his grip on reality. Maybe it's the medication that Alfred takes for his Parkinson's disease, or maybe it's his negative attitude, but he spends his days brooding in the basement and committing shadowy, unspeakable acts. More and more often, he doesn't seem to understand a word Enid says.Trouble is also brewing in the lives of Enid's children. Her older son, Gary, a banker in Philadelphia, has turned cruel and materialistic and is trying to force his parents out of their old house and into a tiny apartment. The middle child, Chip, has suddenly and for no good reason quit his exciting job as a professor at D------ College and moved to New York City, where he seems to be pursuing a "transgressive" lifestyle and writing some sort of screenplay. Meanwhile the baby of the family, Denise, has escaped her disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man--or so Gary hints.Enid, who loves to have fun, can still look forward to a final family Christmas and to the ten-day Nordic Pleasurelines Luxury Fall Color Cruise that she and Alfred are about to embark on. But even these few remaining joys are threatened by her husband's growing confusion and unsteadiness. As Alfred enters his final decline, the Lamberts must face the failures, secrets, and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.
A virtuoso portrait of a family Have you ever found yourself seated in a public place--a restaurant or a train, for instance--too close to a family that is in the middle of a bitter and petulant argument that they have clearly been having for days (if not years)? That's what reading The Corrections feels like. Jonathan Franzen provides an uncomfortably intimate experience of the Lambert family, in all their warty, embarrassing humanity. In many ways it is unpleasant reading--and at the same time it is perhaps the most brilliant rendering of an American family I have ever read. We don't necessarily like the Lamberts, but we know them, we recognize them, and they are among the most fully realized characters in modern fiction. I couldn't put this down (though there were times I wanted to), and I found it surprisingly uplifting and resonant at the end. I would rarely recommend a book this highly when I did not particularly enjoy reading it--but The Corrections is essential reading....more info
Depressing - Much ado about nothing I was really looking forward to this book. I'm not sure when I have been so disappointed in a story after all of the hype. I was raised in mid-west and expected a serious story about trials of a disfunctional family. What a total waste of time. Turd fantasy is not my idea of great literature. Worst book I have read since "Running with Scissors". I don't need to waste my time on this psychotic drivel parading as great art....more info
my say. i usually don't bother reviewing books that hundreds of other people have already reviewed, but I couldn't pass on this. I see that the average review is only 3 stars for this incredible book. wow. what's wrong out there amazon people? this is writing and storytelling of the highest order. could be the charles dickens of our time and place. if you love fiction, do not miss this book. it is simply put: one of the great books of our time. ...more info
Franzen's Masterpiece The reviews of this book on amazon.com are really excellent. I think Ms. Wasselmann's spotlight review captures one of the distinctive features of this novel: that it is constantly blurring the line between tragedy and farce. Moreover, as noted in another review, the plot of this book calls to mind the works of Anne Tyler, particularly her novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restuarant. (One of the lead characters in Franzen's novel is Enid, who wants her family together for one last Christmas dinner. Not surprisingly her name backwards spells "dine.") I cannot remember reading a novel that so consistently maintained the rapid narrative pace of Franzen's Corrections. Although this novel has been in the market for several years now, it clearly merits an ongoing audience, perhaps ultimately finding its way on required reading lists at least at the university level. ...more info
You are someone's kid forever The Corrections explores the life of the various members of a family and is proof at how diverse a group of people who start at the same point can become. I liken Franzen's writing to Updike in that it is an example of how the relatively fortunate sink into lives of malaise. Happiness eludes them all in very different ways. I enjoyed learning about each character's micro-environment. Perhaps this speaks of me but I found his detailed account of strained and strange family relations remarkably insightful....more info
Is it 5 stars or 1 star? I cannot imagine anybody having an "inbetween" reaction to this book - either it will get under your skin and crawl around until it consumes you, or it will leave you unaffected, bored, and yawning... Meaning exists in this book only for those who can identify with some part of it. (For example, the parts about Chip and the wilder flights of Alfred's fancy - talking turds, etc. - were quite boring for me, I had to fight the temptation to skim these parts.)
Here's what the book did for me: in every character, I recognised myself and/or my relatives. No real family could possibly match the Lamberts in their extent of dysfunction, of course, but it made me cringe nevertheless; several times it forced me to shut my eyes and take a break from the relentless outpouring of stuff I'd *really* rather not think about. The book describes politics within families so lovingly and with such deadly accuracy that it becomes painful, painful, painful. In short, I was depressed enough to want to kill myself every two pages or so.
So how should I rate this book? I admire Franzen's skill to no end, but there is no way I *enjoyed* this book. Not for a thosand dollars would I read it again. And yet, art of this sort has its place, and this book is a nearly flawless example of its genre. As a writer myself, I feel enriched not just by Franzen's technical prowess but also by the forced self-examination the book put me through. Suffering, too, has a value.
So I'll recommend this book with a strong caveat: for the sake of your mental health and general wellbeing, read it only on bright, sunny days, and have someone hide the rat poison from you.
Beautiful prose! Push through the sleepy beginning. I found the opening a little quiet at first, but when I read Franzen's essay book,
How to Be Alone, I began to understand more of the background(I think those sleepy retirees
are modeled after his experiences with his own parents)! When you push
through a bit, a wacky, dramatic family portrait opens out.
The references are quite up to date, why it's called "Corrections" is an interesting discovery, and the one way it's old-fashioned, in a good way, is in its absoutely beautiful prose. ...more info
May need a 72-hour hold to get over this one... What a painfully depressing book! Wow! This one should come with a Prozac prescription! This book is yet further evidence that the books on Oprah's book club list are to be avoided at all costs. No offense, Oprah, but just because books are boring and depressing doesn't mean they are "deep" or "poignant" or "classics." In Franzen's defense, there were times when I did enjoy this book. Thankfully, he didn't stick to one character's perspective for too, too long. I counted the pages until the shifts, and looked forward to them almost like I was holding my breath underwater. It is hard to say which character was the most tragic: the suicidal father suffering (as is the reader) with details of his dementia and incontinence, the selfish, materialistic Gary, the con-artist "writer" Chip, the self-sabotaging, bisexual Denise, or the bitter, pill-popping mother. This book was downright painful to read at times because it hit on ALL the ugliness of life and offered little in the way of relief, refuge, or hope. I finished the book only to see how Franzen would repay the dedicated reader who somehow got through this morass of despair, only to find nothing. If you are the type of reader who is willing to wade through nearly 600 pages of darkness for less than 100 pages of clever, touching and/or worthwhile prose, pick this one up. Otherwise, watch a few episodes of Dr. Phil, and move on with your life....more info
******* The Corrections is one of a handful of novels for which five stars is madly insufficient. If it is not THE great American novel (and it just may be), it is certainly one of the greatest....more info
mmm, not that impressed After seeing this on best selling lists forever, finally picked it up from my library. Liked the beginning, but it really waned. Made myself finish it since SO many people loved it, but I'm not feeling it....more info
And so the hype was because.... I still can't figure out what the buzz was all about (besides the O brouhaha). I could connect with Gary, Chip, and Denise on some level (must be the middle age hurdles and Philly/NY elements). But I could hardly champion them. Every time the plot rambled on about the patent, Alfred's slow demise, or some pathetic turn of a relationship-gone-bad, I wished I knew how to speed-read. I think there's literary merit in the novel, but it's too overdrawn and shoots into too many directions. I wouldn't prefer root canal to reading this (as one reviewer suggested), but I would've liked a stronger focus. ...more info
Disappointing. I was looking forward to reading this novel based on its description, but getting through the first 75% of the book was just about as fun as a root canal. It was drawn out, and while I love descriptive writing, Franzen's prose often put me to sleep....it got quite frustrating. However, I am never one to stop reading a book once I've started, so months later, I finally finished it (I normally read about a book a week or more). I would have rated this book even lower, but the last quarter of it was quite good. You learn a lot of important information about the Lambert family that ties previous drivel together. I was happy enough with this portion of the book that I am glad I never put it down. However, I do not intend on being first in line for any of Franzen's future books....more info
Great story and artful prose This book is one of the best modern American novels that I have read. A few reviewers here rate this book low because it is a sad story. Well, since when do we rate books on the basis of the amount of serotonin they make our brain produce?
Every aspect of the story is wonderfully researched: the lifestyle of a chef, the financial markets, living with someone who has a debilitating neurological disorder, post-communist Eastern Europe (although that is blown out of proportion a bit), engineering, academia, Philadelphia and Midwest... The prose also deserves a mention - it is witty, allegorical and musical. The book is about life, about growing and getting old, about family and all that comes with it. The book raises some important questions about our American family values but shows the bad and the good. Read it!...more info
So Whose Family Isn't Dysfunctional? Let me preface this review by saying that I meant to give this book '5' stars but once I entered '4' stars in error I was unable to change my rating.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Mr. Franzen examines a family which in today's lingo would be considered dysfunctional. He uses the metaphor of 'corrections' (eg. stock market, drafts of writing, behaviors, etc.) to provide the backdrop for the personal history of 3 siblings and their parents.
Each person in the novel has their own demons and secrets that separate them from one another. However, they want to 'correct' this. The mother, Enid, hopes to have one Christmas with the whole family together and this is a major theme of the book. This proposed get-together is not welcomed by the siblings. Control and loss of control, who has control and how easily it can come and go is an ever-present them in this story.
Franzen does a wonderful play names and words. I highly recommend this book....more info
The only book I have ever returned.... I was all set to read this book, after ordering it on Amazon. Before I could start reading the book, the author decided he didn't like Oprah's Book Club label on the front of his book. The fuss that he made prompted Oprah to discontinue her Book Club for a while. Well, that was all I needed to hear. I put this book back into its box and returned it. It may be a very good story...... I have no idea because I haven't read it, nor have I read any of his other books. Rule #1 in the book-lovers' world---- don't insult Oprah and her Book Club readers....more info
Black Comedy Without the Comedy Let's take the good points, first:
1. Chip's part of the story. The Corrections is divided (roughly) into four or five parts, one for each member of the Lambert family -- Alfred and Enid (the parents), Chip, Gary, and Denise (their children). The second section, focused on Chip's declining academic and writing career is actually buffo stuff.
The characterization of the rich young undergrad whom Chip beds and spends a wild weekend with is painfully accurate. Even the descriptions of their sex (usually as unfunny a subject as possible) are uproarious. Pay special attention to Franzen's own coinages used to describe the act.
2. The names of the St. Jude characters. Franzen obviously took some care naming the Lamberts' neighbors -- there are Esther and Kirby Root (believably homeland) and Dale and Honey Driblett (both funny and believable). There is a clever play on "Amour" with Don Armour's name, and even the first name "Don," is probably meant to suggest Don Juan.
Now to the bad:
3. The comedy ends with that second section. The rest of it is a forced death march, through financial journalism material, stock options, patent fees, railroad arcana, the econo-politico maneuvering in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Franzen the Journalist suddenly takes the reins over from Franzen the Artist, or Franzen the Novelist. It is not entertaining.
4. Desperately in need of editing. This could have been half as long. Gary's and Denise's sections of the novel were both too long, and too short. That is, the material in them suggested character, but never really closed in on it (certainly not the way Chip's section did). They are full of extraneous back-story. Witness, for instance, the pages dedicated to Robin Passafaro's (already a secondary character herself) career-criminal brother. Why did we know about this character? How did he move the plot?
5. For all of its posturing as a "family romance," when the siblings are brought face-to-face at last, the chemistry between them is unbelievably dead. I suspect some fatigue on Franzen's part. The stage has been set for all manner of verbal fireworks, but Chip and Gary can only manage a couple of lame digs at one another (mainly to do, again, with social and economic issues). It's like these supposed siblings never met one another before. No family row has ever been conducted at this volume. Franzen was an only child, perhaps?
6. The sex. This is not a moral objection, but an artistic one. In that raucous section about Chip, Franzen gets the depiction of sex correct -- that is, it is burlesque. It is ridiculous, grotesque, and embarrassing. But then he follows this with all these obsessive, medically accurate depictions of encounters (and yikes, for every character, as well) which are dissociative, creepy, and unlike any sex ever had by human beings.
This is not "The Great American Novel." It's not even "a great American novel." It is best when Franzen allows his imagination to fly (as he does when following Chip) but too often, the book is bogged down with journalistic ballast. ...more info
Hours I Will Never Get Back I was determined to finish this, because I thought surely, with all of the praise it gets there must be a point somewhere. I thought wrong and 500 pages later I was left annoyed by a plotless story, gratuitous sex, and a host of bratty characters. This is by far the worst book I've ever read. If one should INSIST on reading it, I recommend starting at page 400, trust me, you won't miss a thing. ...more info
The Corrections This book was a selection for our bi-monthly book club so I felt obligated to read it. I DID finish it, but if it hadn't been for that, I don't think I could have otherwise. It's about a family where every member is so disfunctional, and so true to life in their disfunction, you want to scream. I prefer books where I can escape reality for a while....more info
The Corrections No matter how I tried, I just could not get into this book. Franzen's flowery writing style basically bored me to tears. ...more info
Beautifully written slice of the american family I LOVED this book! It was my second attempt at it though . . .the first one was derailed by family crises of the most common kind . . . and I am so glad that I went back to it. I shan't repeat much of the plot but would like to say that Franzen's command of the english language, of twisting plotlines and of touching unerringly on the heart of the matter is absolutely stunning.
The disintegration of Alfred's mind due to Parkinson's, the self centered misery of Chip's life, the utter meanness of the family relationships Gary endures and, in all that, the floundering Enid are events and characters that come alive for the reader. I did not find this a dark book. Cuttingly honest perhaps but not dark with misery in the way that some authors like to be. If you enjoyed Middlesex or Life of Pi you will enjoy this book....more info
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud reading this book. Some of you complain that the string of the plot is at times not so taut, not taut as it ought. Okay, agreed. But how many books can you pick up with writing this dazzling and just plain funny? Very very few. Instead of complaining about the corrections that need to be made, I'd rather brag on The Corrections as a brilliant satire that is not simply worth reading but must-reading.
Also recommended--Sideshow by Sidney Thompson...more info
Well worth the investment in time Don't believe the hype about the hype. Brilliantly imagined, extremely well written, and just a pleasure to read....more info
Disturbing and beautiful The Corrections is a wonderful book. The characters and their experiences are so well written that they begin to seem real, almost too real at times. Franzen unapologetically forces his reader to see through his characters' eyes (through those of all five principal characters individually); to experience their personalities, relationships, struggles and emotions first-hand. Though this vision can sometimes be depressing, infuriating, sickening or even heartbreaking, I couldn't look away. Other times, the view through his characters' eyes is exciting, hopeful, romantic and humorous. Whatever the view happened to be, it always felt authentic, and often, very familiar.
Franzen's prose is masterful and refreshing. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his writing is that it has a pleasing, almost musical tone, yet still seems effortless. His characters' dialogues are so natural that their sarcasms and subtleties are evident without the reader having to be explicitly told or shown. His metaphors and similes are not only fresh, but so fitting that I felt a little jealous that I hadn't thought of some of them first.
The Corrections may seem like an odd title, but Franzen injects the term "correction" in various forms throughout the book. More importantly, the characters all undergo some sort of "correction" in their lives. The book is really about these changes in the characters.
This is an excellent book that can be enjoyed as a good, engaging read and even as a glimpse into what great modern (post-modern?) literature has to offer.
(Note: It's a shame that people would rate a book without ever having read it. I understand that people are upset with Franzen because he didn't want Oprah's condescending giant gold seal of approval indelibly stamped onto -HIS- labors. Though perhaps a more reasonable form of protest among Oprah's devotees would be to write Mr. Franzen a scathing hate e-mail or letter. Amazon.com has a mild disclaimer that shows up with these review boxes in which they ask nicely that reviewers, "Please be sure to focus your comments on this product." Ultimately, what is particularly ironic is that Oprah, herself, enjoyed this book enough to choose it for her club, yet people trying to defend her are refusing to read a book that she loved. Try to puzzle that one out. Anyhow, I am being a hypocrite merely by writing this, since it does not directly involve the product. I just wanted to say, as others have before me, that this is an outstanding book that would likely have a 4 1/2 - 5 star rating overall if it weren't for people slamming it in Oprah's defense.)...more info
A seemingly unending stream of word vomit I can think of no other way to describe this thing.
I really, really despised almost everything about The Corrections. I finished it solely so that I could write a horrible review and have it be valid.
At no single point before the last 10 pages of this 566-page monster did I feel a shred of sympathy with any of the characters. There were several moments where I thought Franzen would have been better off writing dialogue-for-the-average-Joe instead of the trumped up and out of place Dawson's Creek-esque vocabulary in almost every human interaction. His insistence on using the "25-cent word" at every turn made reading the story choppy at best... aggravating and unenjoyable.
I also couldn't help but see the author in a lot of his characters' worst personality traits. Annoying hipster-lecher I'm-better-than-capitalism-but-still-depend-on-it Chip. Whiny too-good-for-anyone Gary. Ungrateful I'm-a-bitch-but-require-all-your-love-and-attention Denise. The parents? Alfred is the only one for whom I felt any sympathy and that didn't happen until the last dregs of the book... and I think maybe even then it was a knee-jerk reaction at being so close to the book being over. Enid's issues rubbed me the wrong way for many reasons, not the least of which being that I could see my own mother in her... which means, I suppose, that Enid was probably the most well-represented character in the novel.
The secondary characters were almost entirely a sorry lot with personalities to the extreme in any number of directions - too smart, too stupid, too needy, too plain, too EVERYTHING.
I know that I'll never understand the praise this book received from critics and readers... and I'm ok with that. I do wish, however, that I could meet some of the people who relate it so easily to real life. Meeting them, perhaps, would truly terrify me. [close] ...more info
Impossible to Care This is the story of desperately unhappy people. Enid and Alfred have never had a good marriage. Right from the start they have clashed: he is too focused on his work and not focused enough on giving his wife the attention she needs. She tends to nag and to fixate on appearances. Despite these problems in their marriage, they produce two sons and a daughter--Gary, Chip and Denise, to whom they pass along various psychological problems.
Now grown up with lives of their own, Gary, Chip and Denise are just as unhappy as their parents. Gary lives the picture-perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, lots of money, a stable job, and three sons. However, he is suffering from depression, constantly feuding with his wife, and he can't seem to connect with his boys.
Chip pretends he doesn't need his parents' respect. He is an intellectual, a college professor on track for tenure and a guaranteed job for the forseeable future, but then he throws it all away to have an affair with a student. He has a habit of sabotaging his own life.
Denise tries to act the part of the caring daughter, but she can't seem to do what her mother wants--settle down with a nice man and start a family. Instead she has a series of affairs with married men before deciding she might be a lesbian.
In his retirement, what was supposed to be the best time of Enid's life, Alfred develops both Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. He is cranky and unpredictable and driving Enid crazy, since she believes he is not really as helpless as he acts. However, she tries to put on her best face and act like things are still fine. She becomes fixated on having her whole family back to her house for one last Christmas, feeling like if she could make that happen then things might be okay. Her children, though, fighting with demons of their own, aren't quite so enthusiastic about the idea.
Some of the language in this book was beautiful. Some phrases and entire paragraphs took my breath away. Franzen has a gift for examining the mundane bits of life in extraordinary detail. However, this gift becomes a curse when it takes a story and drags it out as long as this story has been dragged out. Description is wonderful, but not when it pulls the reader out of the story for pages at a time to explore a flashback so detailed that by the time the character returns to the present, the reader has completely forgotten the flow of the story.
The excruciating detail is not the major problem, though. The major problem is that every character in this story is absolutely despicable. I found the descriptions of how Alfred and Enid treated their children when they were young almost painful. However, after having read about Gary, Chip, and Denise as adults, I found I couldn't be sympathetic to them, either.
I certainly understand that all humans are flawed, and some stories more than others examine the darker parts of human nature. However, there needs to be some balance in characters. Every one of these characters was so overwhelmingly deplorable that there was no tension in the story. I wasn't rooting for anyone to find success or happiness, and as the novel plodded on, I found I was less and less concerned with the continued failure of this family to connect with each other or the rest of society....more info
Well written, interesting stories and people but a bit depressing for me I enjoyed this book, although at times the characters and situations were too depressing for me - but also sometimes close to home. This book made me appreciate my family and also not take them for granted. Also, the view from someone with Parkinson's Disease was powerful and well written....more info
Don't Be Fooled, This Is a Must Read! Amazon should start displaying some other statistics on the ratings, particularly for a book like this. No one rates this as three stars -- it is a five for me, a one for another. I suspect the people rating it one star are troubled by the characters' dysfunction, but the troubling feeling probably comes from their realism. The author writes them in such beautiful detail that they seem like they are not characters at all, but experiences we've all had or witnessed in our lives. I had strong feelings about every major character in the book -- loathing for the mother; anger for the father; envy for the daughter; embarassment for the sons; and pity for all.
The humor is laugh-out-loud reading. I found myself erupting on planes, in the gym and on the train -- people in my office and neighborhood were thankful to see me finish this tome. The crippling dysfunction of the family is familiar, whether from your own family or one close to you.
I rarely re-read books (there are so many good ones available and I've watched SO much television), but I will surely do The Corrections again....more info
Tried Hard to Like It and Failed It is very frustrating when a piece of art comes along--a movie, tv show, band, etc.--that you, in theory, should love...but don't. The Corrections was, for me, that piece of art, that scripted equivalent of Radiohead (or, perhaps, Coldplay. Excluding "Clocks", of course. Ah, sweet "Clocks"...)
Anyway: The Corrections is a novel in the social realist tradition (Updike, Dickens, etc.) that concerns itself with the trials and tribulations of the Lambert family, which consists of two dusty parents and their three offspring, carefully designed by their author to be colorful and unique. Mr. Franzen writes so very well, about so very many things, which all seem quite true and sometimes humorous--the part where he describes a corporate convention and the aspirations of luxury of the attendees sounds like something from a Tom Wolfe essay. He has also managed to do something I had long thought impossible in modern literature. He combines high-quality prose, full of vivid descriptions, comparisons, and observations, with actual plot, dialogue, and characters. The latter three are not, praise the Deity, merely outlines for Franzen to hang his sentences on. I almost wish they were, though, because I did not like any of them.
The characters were both predictable and irritating. If I must put up with a college professor who sleeps with a student (how new, and at the same time interesting), at least let him behave erratically. Have him buy a gun and assassinate the entire Academic Advising staff, have him paint his face blue, have him do SOMETHING weird and interesting! Franzen has him move to Manhattan and pursue a career as a screenwriter. Hrm. If I have to deal with a stiff-lipped Midwestern woman married to an even stiffer lipped Midwestern man (someone should introduce Franzen to Sinclair Lewis), let them have interesting secrets, or interesting neighbors, or even a sassy pet parrot, perhaps with a clever, repeatable catchphrase! (...). But after hundreds of pages of Alfred's harumphy stoicism (Franzen does not really clue us in as to the origins of said harumphiness), and Enid's occasionally manipulative, occasionally forlorn martyr act, I began to wish that the cruise ship they were on would run into some Somalian pirates. As for eldest son Gary, he was interesting only because he was married to the most passive-aggressive woman on Earth. I enjoyed reading about the daughter (her name escapes me) and her cooking--Franzen writes cooking scenes extremely well--but found her only marginally more likable than the other two offspring. Some might say that I am not required to like the characters in a story. Quite true, but the lack of a hero to tie me to the plot left me skimming through Mr. Franzen's prose, pausing for the occasional bit of bleak humor (someone needs to check whether Alfred's talking turd--I call it Franzen's Kafka Bit--is related to South Park's Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo).
In fact, I was surprised at how often, and how much, of this book I felt compelled to flip through. It just didn't seem like anything interesting--or important--was happening! Perhaps my age prevented me from identifying with any of the characters. It also might have been their predictability. You can almost hear Franzen saying to himself, "OK, the eldest will be yuppiesque, bratty kids with electronics I can satirize, wife works out all the time...then the other I'll make kinda the liberal, the artsy professor--maybe he'll have an affair with a student...And the third I'll make a female to balance things out...she should do something kinda professional, kinda artsy...ah! I'll make her a chef. And what should her quirk be...mmm...relationship problems! And they'll be parented by two Midwestern smears of mud. OK let's get cracking!"
How did this book come to be so lauded? It's an amazon Best of the Year, but clearly something is up when such editorial Oomph backs a book with a meager 3 stars and nearly 1,000 reviews! I suspect that the cheers are for the book IN THEORY. In theory, after books about magic realism, about tigers in life rafts, about miserable characters and their overwritten emotions, about GETTING OLDER (Roth, Updike, it's happened to better writers than you), and about lawyers, Navy Seals, and DaVinci...whew...After all that, everyone was going ga-ga over a well-written, old-fashioned big fat Dickensian free-for-all. I know I was. I thought "Here's a book that takes a big slice from the cake of life--rich, poor, foreign, American, gay, straight, young, old--and smears it across several hundred pages for our devourment." It is exactly that...but...to end the review on a cute and cloying extension of the metaphor...The slice of cake leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I'll just stick to ice cream and read PG Wodehouse. ...more info
Mexican A makes us less ashamed. The Corrections kicked much arse. It's a dysfunctional family tale, but it's probably the least absurd of the genre, the most believeable, prompting many readers to exclaim "God, how does this guy know my family?!" It's heartbreaking and vivid, almost lurid. It's very easy to read, the style is captivating and flawless; it's only difficult emotionally as it can be gritty and taxing. However, as the name states, there are corrections and thus redemption....more info
A modern classic This book is an excellent, character-driven novel. Jonathan Franzen's writing is witty and dead-on when it comes to incorporating nuances and idiosyncracies typical in the American midwest. I found this book clever and perceptive, not least of all entertaining. It is one of my favorites and one I hope becomes a classic....more info
Brillliant style but too long I loved the writing style in this book--very bright and lively--but the book, to me, was too long because of the bitter, depressing sex scenes. Franzen's people really don't like themselves or other humans, and that ends up being unpleasant. In spite of the wacky humor, the book is really very dark. ...more info
The Corrections Book Review submitted by: Stephen J. Hage, SteveH9697@aol.com
This book falls into the "serious fiction" or "literary fiction" category which means it is not genre fiction. Its focus is on psychological depth and character rather than narrative and plot; and on that score it delivers with a capital D.
The main characters are Alfred and Enid Lambert living in St. Jude, a nondescript Midwestern suburb. They're getting on in years and their children have moved out and on.
Franzen's gift is his ability to describe situations that are desperate and intense using allusion. Here's an example from the first page:
"Three in the afternoon was a time of danger in these gerontocratic suburbs of St. Jude. Alfred had awakened in the great blue chair in which he'd been sleeping since lunch. He'd had his nap and there would be no local news until five o'clock. Two empty hours were a sinus in which infections bred. He struggled to his feet and stood by the Ping-Pong table, listening in vain for Enid.
Ringing throughout the house was an alarm bell that no one but Alfred and Enid could hear directly. It was the alarm bell of anxiety. It was like one of those big cast-iron dishes with an electric clapper that send school children to the street in fire drills. By now it had been ringing for so many hours that the Lamberts no longer heard the message of "bell ringing" but, as with any sound that continues for so long that you have the leisure to learn its component sounds (as with any word you stare at until it resolves itself into a string of dead letters), instead heard a clapper rapidly striking a metallic resonator, not a pure tone but a granular sequence of percussions with a keening overlay of overtones; ringing for so many days that it simply blended into the background except at certain early-morning hours when one or the other of them awoke in a sweat and realized that a bell had been ringing in their heads for as long as they could remember; ringing for so many months that the sound had given way to a kind of metasound whose rise and fall was not the beating of compression waves but the much, much slower waxing and waning of their consciousness of the sound. Which consciousness was particularly acute when the weather itself was in an anxious mood. Then Enid and Alfred--she on her knees in the dining room opening drawers, he in the basement surveying the disastrous Ping-Pong table--each felt near to exploding with anxiety."
The passage paints a pretty clear picture of who Alfred and Enid are and what's going on in their lives. But, it does it on the oblique allowing you to sneak in and watch what's happening from inside the characters' heads.
My first thought on reading it was, "I wonder if Franzen will be able to sustain this level of intensity." I didn't have to wait very long to find out. He does.
The "hook" he uses to draw you through the story is Enid's burning desire to gather the family home one more time for Christmas dinner.
The emotion I feel most when reading authors with the talent to write serious fiction this well is envy. Names like Wolf and Hemmingway come to mind.
All writers use words and all words are the same; just a sequence of letters. Ultimately their skill is revealed in how well they can string those words together in ways that allow you to get into their head and "see" what it is they're trying to say. Some are crude. Some are facile. Some are entertaining. And then, there are those like Franzen, who make not only the story but the words themselves come alive.
Read this book and treat yourself to a good story and an archetypal example of exactly what the term "serious fiction" means.
Using dysfunction as Macguffin, Franzen brilliantly defines love in its many forms First the analytical: Franzen has a terrific turn of phrase, marvelous vocabulary, but remains very readable. He builds suspense in the smallest spaces of the human mind, and yet sees the importance of the big picture, and leaves gorgeous clues as to where his characters will find themselves, or where they see themselves. Like Pynchon and Wallace, he treads the sometimes surreal area between the landscape and the land, and lets the reader often decide which, but he does not venture so far into his own mind that you forget which story he is telling. His structure is brilliant, reminiscent of vintage Faulkner in his timeline, but honestly his ability to tie events together throughout his characters' histories, and present the results of past actions as beautiful surprises in the prose reminded me more of Thomas Hardy. Readers unfamiliar with literature might need to keep a dictionary handy, but I always enjoy that aspect of prodigious novels. However, Franzen is here to tell a well constructed story, not convince us that he's read the OED, which can't be said for some writers of equal stature. Loving your family and friends despite their faults is what living life is all about, and someone able to attain that goal in a novel is a writer of literature, not storybooks or badly disguised scripts for Lifetime original movies.
Those who stopped reading this book half way through completely missed its point. Everyone has quirks and dysfunctions, and Franzen's laser beam eye for them does make the reader squirm, but squirm deliciously, at their own foibles and those of their own family members, and laugh at the same foibles. It's hard to find tragedy that's so damn funny. But a dysfunctional family is simply the MacGuffin here. This book is not about solving problems among family members (none of them get solved) but about the hope that lies beneath all hardship, the humanity behind the dysfunction.
Readers who do not like these characters may be lying to themselves about their own idiosyncracies. Although I identified a lot with Chip there is something in each of these characters that holds a mirror to the reader. What Franzen possesses in great abundance is a love of people, a love of humanity that transcends the darker side of human behavior. Without that love of humanity, there is no way he could have written this book. When you reach the end, its ultimate message is hope, after all, true hope that it is never too late to be happy in life. What better message can a book bring forth than that?...more info
Self Aggrandizing Drivel Who cares? Maybe the most overhyped book I have ever read. I was so looking forward to it, and was so disappointed. I love a well written tragedy, and this was not it. Not well written at least. I won't buy Franzen's next book....more info
Good although sometimes weird I really enjoyed reading this book. Franzen is very skilled when it comes to observing and describing peoples emotions and state of mind. In many cases you feel like you know people who are just the way Franzen's characters are.
In a few cases though I thought he is going too far and making life of his characters too strange and too complicated and just unbelievable.
I like Franzen's sense of humour. For me the book was an ironic picture of a modern American family. Fun....more info
Disappointing. The beginning of the book - indeed the first paragraph - sets the tone for disastrous events. Then right away the reader is seeped into the dusty and depressing surroundings of Alfred's and Enid's home. I appreciated the good language, although sometimes it was too loftly considering what was being said. e.g. "....the cool plush chafing his nether parts in a poor approximation of Melissa's skin." Aouch! I liked the author's descriptions and the fair amount of humour but on the whole I found this novel too long and drawn out. I do not know why it was rated so highly. Besides, I found it very depressing. Relationships were hideous. Old age was ghastly. Fraud was rampant.
That interesting cover showing a beautiful dinner celebration was misleading....more info
Time for bigger and better things Enjoyment is like the tingle you feel when you place your hand on the fresh ice at the bottom of an ice rink. The Corrections is the book that turned the ice rink into a swimming pool because it drained all of the enjoyment out of reading. Franzen has an amazing talent in creating metaphors out of nothing that give nothing, tell nothing, and prove nothing. He leads the reader into side views that go off nowhere and breaks ones ability to concentrate on anything that could remotely help the plot. Was this book trying to make a point? If it was it failed. This book tells a story about each of the children of Alfred and Enid. Each one of the characters is an extreme in bad lifestyles and what not to do. Without a grounded character and with no true climax this book will rest unopened on my shelf as the epitome of poor writing. ...more info
Not a fan of the genre, but this is very well written I am not a big fan of the Contemporary Fiction - Dysfunctional Family genre of fiction, a genre that sadly dominates American literature. For me, a contemporary work in this genre needs to be exceptional to even crack a 3 rating.
The Corrections is one of those exceptions. The genre is so, so tired, but the Corrections is so masterfully written, both on a level of prose and in the realistic construction of the protagonist family, that I have to give it a 4. This book is very well done....more info
Don't waste your time This books was hyped beyond belief...it is long and boring and has no point...what a waste of time...will never read this author again. ...more info
As Pretentious As The Author This is not great literature, despite Franzen's pretensions. Refusing to be on Oprah's list was a smart move to give Franzen publicity which his writing couldn't have generated on its own. ...more info
Dysfunctional Family I was promised a tragic masterpiece, grandly entertaining, wisecracking, eloquent, heartbreaking beauty. What I got was a tiresome story about truly dysfunctional people who I would never want to associate with, so why waste my time reading about them? You guessed it -- I didn't like this book and I only got through half of it before opting to read something I'd enjoy. With all the literature out there, why spend precious time with annoying people you can't stand?...more info
Superb The Corrections is so good it's scary - scary in the sense that once you finish it, you're left wondering, How does Jonathan Franzen know so much about me and my family? Forget the fact that this novel is masterfully written and wonderfully told, that's not reason enough to read it. The Corrections is funny, frustrating, sad, profound,bewildering, infuriating, challenging, moving and vital reading for anyone who has or at one time in their life had a family. Strongly recommended....more info
Most boring and pretentious book I ever read I was determined to finish this book regardless of how boring and pretentious I thought it was. Jonathan Franzen seems to be so impressed with himself, he is not thinking at all about the reader or the story telling. Was it Freudian that I accidentally left the book on a train? Perhaps, but not wanting to purchase the book again (or read it for that matter), I finished it on audio book from the library - the abridged version. It was torture as well. ...more info
A Real Mixed Bag I have very mixed feelings about this book. I found it a very unpleasant read, although obviously well written, by a talented author.
On the downside, these were among the most pathetic, unsympathetic characters I can remember meeting in a book in a long time. The main characters are the members of the Lambert family, consisting of Enid, the incredibly insecure wife of Alfred, a retired engineer, and mother of three grown children, Gary, Chip and Denise. Alfred, is a wholly uncommunicative, repressed, overly moralistic mid-westerner deteriorating from Parkinson, dealing with the embarrassment of incontinence, and facing the onset of dementia. The author spends many harrowing pages describing Alfred's terrorized hallucinations.
Like so many older people, Enid faces an uncertain future due to Alfred's health problems. Enid is in exquisite denial about Alfred's deteriorating condition, believing that everything would be OK if he just "tried harder." The one thing that Enid is clear about, is that she wants her three children to spend an idealized Christmas in their small, midwestern town of St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes).
While hard to believe, the Lambert children are in no better condition than Enid or Alfred.
Chip--the smart one--is a college professor who loses his tenure track job in an affair with a student, and is reduced to sniffing his couch for vestiges of his former lover's body odors to achieve sexual comfort.
Gary, perhaps even more pathetic than Chip, is an investment banker with a developing alcohol problem, completely henpecked and controlled by not only his attorney wife, but by his children as well, and seething with poorly concealed rage against Enid and Alfred.
Finally, there's Denise, a well regarded chef, who loses her job in an affair with a desperate, shelf-hating lesbian affair with her investor's wife.
While the characters achieve some small modicum of redemption and growth in the last 25 of the 600 or so pages, the getting there is a harrowing ride--particularly as it relates to Alfred.
On the other side, if you can get past the depression and pain, there is some real merit in this book. Its undoubtedly well-written, Franzen being a truly talented wordsmith. The pace tends to move relatively quickly,offsetting the extended length of this book.
Franzen shows great insight into the human condition, doing an exemplary job presenting the factors that drive the Lamberts to their desperate situations--but desperate they are. As I read this book, I kept imagining myself on the freeway, looking over to the other side of the road where the emergency workers were removing the dead and bloody bodies from the twisted wreckage.
While the novel does hold up a mirror to the reader, it tends to focus almost entirely on the uglier side of life.
Again, if you have the stomach and patience to get through that, the book is worth the read.
I don't get it. I will be the odd person out here and admit that this is the first book that I have EVER read that I had no desire to finish. I realize that many people loved this book and so I've started to wonder if maybe I'm just missing something, but to me it just dragged on and on without any redeeming quality. Maybe I'm crazy, but it just was not for me....more info