on May 5, 2002
The controversy and hype surrounding The Corrections... Of course, there's the part about corporate ownership, but what I think is the real issue, the reason Franzen didn't see his novel as an Oprah choice, is maybe he knew Oprah's Book Clubbers would simply not understand the underlying themes of the novel. "My God! There's a talking turd in the book! Put it in the fire!" It's a kneejerk reaction to something uncomfortable, and to hinge value of the entire work on this one scene, this couple of pages (I'll admit, I took a long break from reading the book when I reached it), is incredibly narrow-minded. Further, after reading several reviews on the site, I was alarmed at how only a few wrote about some of the true themes from the book. The Corrections is not simply a book about a dysfunctional family. Nor is it just a satire of internet culture, pharmaceutical dependence, or the stock market boom. It is how these fit together into the American experience, certainly not ALL experience, but definitely a comment on what's perceived as important in our society, from the author's skewed point of view.
That said, The Corrections is not a brilliant novel. Ambitious, but far from perfect. I did feel a little encumbered by some of his thicker passages, but it was readable. The ending seemed tacked on; there was a "Then this happened, then this happened" feel to it, resolutions that were just a little too tidy to have any resonance. Also, I felt manipulated when I was taken far from a story line I enjoyed. That shifting of gears between stories is discouraging. The cruise dragged in the beginning but picked up in the end.
The characters are hard to like, definitely. There is no spiritual conclusion to it (is that what Oprah readers really want?). It seems the most savage reviews started like this: "I was the only person in my book club to finish this...", which leads me to believe Franzen was right in questioning the inclusion of his book. The Corrections is not for everyone. The plot isn't uplifting. The characters are not easily identified with. Obviously it isn't for the regular Oprah readers.
Case in point: a reviewer complained the book overlooked religion. How does religion factor into consumer culture, or the stock market, or the neurosis war in the Lambert household? The characters are products of mainstream American culture. Does it surprise anyone they're not very good human beings? Could it be Franzen's contempt for the Lamberts is really contempt for our society's misplaced values? A lot of these one star reviewers really don't scratch the surface. I'm not saying my interpretations are more valid than anyone else's, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of effort to pry underneath aesthetical objections to the Corrections. But again, the book isn't for everyone.
on December 28, 2001
I know this must be one for the ages because all the pros told me so. The National Book Club told me, Newsweek told me, The New York Times Book Review told me, of course Oprah told me, and every other profesional critic out there told me. I was interested therefore to see that out of 305 reviews (clearly a pretty broad sampling of Amazon readers), the average review was only 3 stars. I guess that the pros must have different standards and criteria than us hoi polloi. I gave it 3 stars as well, but not perhaps for the same reasons that others were critical.
I had no problems with the disfunctionality of the family. Nor was I troubled by the unlikability of virtually all of the 5 protagonists or the fact that whatever redeeming virtues they each may have had were overwhelmed by their negative qualities. I could also live with the fact that the story is almostb relentlessly depressing. The fact is that, notwithstanding all of that, the author has presented us with an absorbing and thought-provoking portrait of a family in chaos and disarray. Each of the 5 Lambert's was incredibly well carved out, almost as if the author was right inside their heads.
My major complaint however is that the book was just too darn long and, in my view, could have been told just as well in about 350 pages rather than 568 pages. The result of this surplusage is that there are numerous portions of the book which are simply boring or added little to the story and which could have been excised altogether. By way of example, I felt that the "At Sea" portion was way too long and almost all of the material on Chip' adventures in Lithuania was just boring. Clerly, the author feels that he has certain points that he wants to get across and it goes without that he thought that everything in the final draft was worth including. I simply don't share that view. I also felt that the substantial unnecessary length of the novel was a fairly serious shortfall. For that reason, and only that reason, 3 stars.
on January 16, 2002
"If it's so popular, there can be little intelligence in the book."
"Oprah's pick, huh? You know what to expect."
"The reviews are calling it wondrously devastating, unflinchingly honest, indelibly beautiful, agreeably accessible, etc. I'd better make myself 'immensely inaccessible' to the book."
Thoughts like these, that often become a deterrent for many readers, couldn't (thankfully) deter me. Then there was the publicity blitzkrieg, the kind that often leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Being far away from the US, I escaped that too (thankfully again). Ignorance was bliss, for once. Unspoiled by dictated expectations, I picked up Corrections. That was quite the correct thing to do, I was to discover later.
Corrections is the story of Alfred and Enid Lambert, a couple rooted in a fictional Midwestern suburb. Corrections is the tale of Al and Enid's three grown-up children who are looking for their pot of gold in various places (New York, Philadelphia and Lithuania!). Corrections is the story of Al and Enid's grandchildren. When you start reading an author who delves in and out of the minds of three generations of characters with rabbitlike swiftness, you cannot but sit up and take notice. And take notice you will, whether you end up loving or hating Franzen.
JF spins a story that has all the ingredients of a pulp claptrap. And it's so easy to fall into that trap of highbrowdom. I would urge the reader to look beyond the mere descriptions. Scratch a little and you'll find a keen understanding of the human psyche, as it manifests in all shades of the psychological spectrum. To package that understanding in a hilarious, humorous, poignant, and touching story is no mean feat.
Corrections has been described as a sarcastic look at the American way of life. True, Franzen uses (arguably) typical American mannerisms to paint his story. But that, I daresay, is just the means. Peel off the veneer and you're left with emotions that are truly universal. Substitute the Americanism in the novel with Britishism, Orientalism, or any other ism you fancy, Corrections would still be as enjoyable.
on April 16, 2005
I read this book a couple of years ago and adored it. I just finished reading it for a second time and loved it even more.
It's true that the writing style is somewhat pretentious. Franzen seems to really get off on using words no one would use in normal conversation or words no one has even heard before, even by those us who are avid readers. I'm not sure what the point is behind other than Franzen wants to dazzle us with his brillance. OK. Color me impressed (eye roll).
That said, it's an excellent read. After skimming some other reviews those who had problems with the book seemed to find the characters unlikeable and unsympathetic. The characters are SUPPOSED to be unlikeable and unsympathetic. That's what makes them interesting. And besides, who among us is issue free? And probably if some of our issues were revealed, it would make us unlikeable to someone out there. The character development in the book is some of the best out there. You got to know these guys, like them or not. Since when is it a rule that characters in a book should always be likeable? Personally, those books would be yawners to me.
What touched me in this story, and it will touch many readers was how we could relate to the characters. Aging parents, food obsessions, sibling rivalry, parental critism and the feeling of not quite measuring up. I had a happy and healthy childhood, but boy; could I relate! But those aren't exactly warm and fuzzy superlatives. Readers may also relate to the GOOD memories of there pasts: Holidays, achieving goals, making something of ourselves and being happy about it even though some may view our lives as unconventional.
OK, so don't read this book if you insist on happy, well-balanced perfect main charcters and a happily-ever-after ending. That's not the point of this book. If you LOVE strong, well developed characters with quirks and faults and simply LOVE a good story, this is a good choice. But don't forget your dictionary.
on April 17, 2002
I'm about two-thirds of the way through "The Corrections," and, seriously, I must be missing the point. Granted, this is pretty wicked satire, and the characters are so thoroughly dislikable, I'm just compelled to read on to find out how they can further screw up their lives. In addition, I've got to give credit to Franzen's writing skills, he's sharp as a tack, creative, and very imagistic. But here's the caveat about his writing...it reminds me of Whitney Houston's singing. Now Whitney has a great voice, but she just overdoes it with all of those vocal gymnastics. Same with Franzen. I can just imagine the pleasure he received from twisting a phrase here, creating a skewering metaphor there. I guess what I'm trying to write here is that in terms of story or plot, I just don't get his point. Last night I read about how Alfred, in his state of dementia aboard a cruise ship, has an imaginary conversation with a turd...yes a turd!!... I'm not sure I'm going to finish the book, as I'm curious to move on to Empire Falls. I'm glad I didn't purchase the book...I borrowed it from the library. Do I recommend it? Probably not, but if you're curious like I was wondering what all the fuss was about, it might be worth skimming. In fact, I think I'll skim through to the end of the book.
on November 21, 2001
This book managed to live up to the heaps of praise it's been recieving recently. Regardless of Franzen's social situation with Oprah, I think he's an amazing writer. This book recently won the National Book Award for fiction. What struck me as most interesting about the story is that the father figure, Alfred, while argubly the origin of most of the problems in the family -- he became my favorite character. I nearly had to wipe tears from my eyes as I ended the book. At the same time you hate him, you can't help but love him at the same time.
The other characters in the book each get their own sections and each story is compelling in its own right. It was amazing how I related to each character (excluding the mother, although she had traits that were extremely familiar) regardless of how different they were from each other. Franzen does an amazing job of crafting these individuals that seem to be extreme opposites, yet seem to retain the sort of commonality that make the reader identify with them.
Honestly, I laughed and I nearly cried. I was both concerned and delighted. The Corrections is easily the best book I read in 2001.
on September 6, 2001
(excerpted and condensed from NYTimes review)
By turns funny and corrosive, portentous and affecting, "The Corrections" not only shows us two generations of an American family struggling to make sense of their lives, but also cracks open a window on a sullen country lurching its way toward the millennium.
"The Corrections" is a remarkably poised narrative held together by a myriad of meticulously observed details and tiny motifs that create a mosaiclike picture of America in the waning 20th century. And while the story line is propelled by several suspenseful questions - whether Alfred's patent for a metallurgical discovery will pay off, whether Chip will escape from Lithuanian thugs, whether the shotgun in the Lamberts' basement will be put to use - the real tension in "The Corrections" stems from the characters' emotional dramas, rather than from the sort of contrived plot points found in the Franzen's earlier novels.
on October 5, 2001
It must be that male writers and critics just don't read books written by women, because there are hundreds of books so much better than this soap opera of a novel. But this book has no staying power and won't even be read by anyone in a few years, whereas Marilynn Robinson, in HOUSEKEEPING has a far more interestingly dysfuntional family, the members of which all hold our interest. Many great writers write about unlikable people, but Jonathan Franzen doesn't like his own characters, and we never get a chance even to know what they're like. This is a book that makes you despair about being human, but when you finally get all the way through it you put it aside and despair of the time you wasted reading it. This book's ideal audience are white male prep school students or college English majors.
on September 10, 2001
This is a big book that is stuffed to the gills with sometimes nearly unending sentences on popular enthusiasms, memories and memorabilia, good and bad luck, sexual desire, images of the American midwest, nostalgia for idealized middle-class family life, lust, academia, over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, petty rivalries, American place names, international politics, cogent observations regarding parenting, love, married life, aging, the exigencies of American business life, some information about Parkinson's disease, and the great twin staples of families: unhappiness and anxiety. There is dialogue that is familiar, tiresome, sometimes funny, hip or dated; and interior monologue that is occasionally moving and important. Franzen can write lucidly about anything and everything, and does so in this very long story. Unfortunately, nothing has been left out.
By now the plot is familiar to readers. There's not a lot to it. The pre-publication hype has been intense. A family (two parents, three adult children and several in-laws) is to gather from around the United States for one last Christmas together. This plot requires of the reader an agreement to assign "Christmas" a considerable emotional weight. (Some people really do watch "It's a Wonderful Life" every year.) This will succeed with some, but not all, readers.
Parts of the text are nearly soporific. Here's an excerpt, about the matriarch, Enid: "She told not only her friends but everybody else she knew in St. Jude, including her butcher, her broker, and her mailman, that her grandson Jonah was coming for the holidays. Naturally she was disappointed that Gary and Jonah were staying for just three days and were leaving at noon on Christmas, but plenty of fun could be packed into three days."
Is it an important book? Will it change your way of seeing the world? Probably not. It's 570 pages long. It weighs two pounds. Some of the descriptions of the most commonplace things and inner states seem to stretch on for pages. Parkinson's disease afflicts the family's patriarch, and getting old is no fun, either. Franzen describes how the disease looks to others - but not, really, the experience of the disease. In more than a few places Franzen squanders the chance to go deep, in favor of yet more description of how things looked or sounded. For a novel that uses this much paper and ink to tell its story, the emotional lives of his characters are often frustratingly slight.
The visual-details-laden, dialogue-heavy tale of a complicated and somewhat interesting (but also quite average) American middle-class family is a sure draw, but readers old enough to recall the best-selling page-turners of the 1950's and '60's of Leon Uris, James Michener, Jeffrey Archer and even Harold Robbins might not be wowed by this novel. Younger readers new to the genre may well be pleased.
on January 27, 2002
Had to read the book based upon the Oprah issue alone. I liked this book a lot but became disinterested with some of the sub-plots that seemed to go nowhere (impending execution). I recognize these issues added depth - but detracted from the intriguing family dynamic. Incredible new writer with great character development. I think his editor could have trimmed back some of the meanderings. Mental Health and Aging issues were incredibly well written. I definitely recommend reading this book. A great book club discussion book.