I will admit that I was sceptical of my most recent book. I have heard so many good things about The Corrections that it bordered on being banished to my category of overly popular (and therefore unreadable)books. I mean seriously, a book published in 2001 on Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest English-Language Novels? Exaggeration seemed likely. I almost purchased this book several months ago but resisted the urge. Last week, with a 40% off coupon to Half Price Books, I gave in.
Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is a novel centered around the lives of elderly Midwestern couple Alfred and Enid Lambert and their three grown children, Gary, Chip, and Denise. Alfred has rapidly progressing Parkinson’s, and Enid dreams of spending one last Christmas with her children all home. This dream is complicated by the vastly different lives of the three Lambert children. Chip was a university professor on tenure track but was fired after an ill-advised affair with a student. He moves to New York and attempts to write a screenplay. His failure in that endeavor eventually leads him to join a Lithuanian crime lord’s scheme to defraud American investors of sizable amounts of money. Gary is the apparently normal child. He enjoys a good job and sizable wealth, as well as having a beautiful wife and three wonderful children. Beneath this veneer lies a man tormented by insecurity and an inability to identify and realize his own desires. Denise is a succesful chef who becomes confused about her sexuality and falls for her boss’s wife. The resulting affair eventually leads to her firing from Philadelphia’s hottest restaurant. Eventually all three children find their way home and must face the reality of their father’s condition and their own failures.
The Corrections is one of those books that makes you laugh at things that shouldn’t be funny. Franzen presents the harsh realities of aging and the failure to live up to the expectations we all set for ourselves in a way that makes them bearable only because he gives us permission to laugh. He perfectly captures the complex influences each member of a family exerts on each other member. The incongruities between ‘traditional’ values and the modern America we inhabit (driven by the thirst for corporate profit and individual desires) are on full display. Franzen shines a light on the disfunction that is passed from generation to generation as each attempts to improve upon the efforts of its predecessor. Few authors are capable of so much insight without turning out a book that is overwhelmed by its own apparent profundity. Franzen does exactly that. He offers his readers a sincere and insightful look at the world we inhabit without becoming superior in tone or distracted by his own wisdom. The Corrections is engaging and intelligent, humorous and disturbing. More than anything, this book is just plain fun to read. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
The Current Count:
66 Read, 34 To Go