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The Corrections: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2002
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From The New Yorker
A sprawling novel about the diaspora of the modern American family: Enid and Alfred have carved their lives out of the suburban Midwest bedrock—hard work, shrimp cocktail, and silent sex—but their children live in New York and Philadelphia, eat wild Norwegian salmon, experiment with bisexuality, and study Foucault. Franzen gives us a tragicomic portrait of a flawed nation with the equally flawed notion of perfectibility at its heart.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
“You will laugh, wince, groan, weep, leave the table and maybe the country, promise never to go home again, and be reminded of why you read serious fiction in the first place.” ―The New York Review of Books
“Marvelous . . . Everything we want in a novel--except, when it's rocking along, for it never to be over.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Jonathan Franzen has built a powerful novel out of the swarming consciousness of a marriage, a family, a whole culture--our culture.” ―Don DeLillo
“Looms as a model for what ambitious storytelling can still say about modern life . . . Franzen swings for the fences and clears them with yards to spare.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“The novel we've been waiting for...a stunning anatomy of family dysfunction...a contemporary novel that will endure.” ―Esquire
“In its complexity, its scrutinizing and utterly unsentimental humanity, and its grasp of the subtle relationships between domestic drama and global events....It is a major accomplishment.” ―Michael Cunningham
“Frighteningly, luminously authentic.” ―The Boston Globe
“A genuine masterpiece . . . This novel is a wisecracking, eloquent, heartbreaking beauty.” ―Elle
“The brightest, boldest, and most ambitious novel I've read in many years.” ―Pat Conroy
“Brilliant . . . Almost unbearably lifelike.” ―The New York Observer
“Funny and deeply sad, large-hearted and merciless, The Corrections is a testament to the range and depth of pleasures great fiction affords.” ―David Foster Wallace
“This is a spellbinding novel . . . that is both funny and piercing.” ―People
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One can easily be enamored by Alfred Lambert, who is fascinating because he is different. His ailment and its accompanying nervous ticks, even though of biological origin, can find a dynamical isomorphism to the brain patterns of any of the other sometimes mentally dysfunctional characters of the story. Albert’s wife Edith, eventually finds redemption in change, and she repeals the doctrine that aging requires permanence and restful equilibrium. She becomes comfortable with the idea of starting again with a clean slate, the words on this slate getting erased not by conscious choice, but by out-of-control events accumulated over a long lifetime. Then there is the delightfully undiplomatic Chip, who charms the reader with his lack of self-confidence. He is a surrogate for the majority constituents of modern life, its individuals, its institutional debacles, and the coercive extremities of academia. His counterweight is Denise, symbol of worldly success and its corollaries of bad habits, and therefore naturally an annoyance to Enid.
Gender politics, deconstruction, queer theory, and other supercilious doctrines form a back drop in the story, all with varying degrees of accuracy and instilling various degrees of annoyance in the reader. Michele Foucault finds representation in sometimes brief commentary on normality. Unsurprisingly, northeastern plutocrats find their place in the book also.
If the words of this novel were music, and sometimes it is hard to distinguish them from the best of melodies, they have found realization and have become amplified by many hundreds of decibels in current modernity. There is no quiet now, no dandelions blowing in the wind that allow contemplation ala the Rev. John Ames of Gilead fame. Modern life jostles around even the most confident of individuals, who find themselves always late rather than early. Indeed, and most delightfully, modernity imposes the strongest corrections.
As the story opens Alfred is suffering from Parkinson's disease (though it may not actually ever be named). He has trouble tracking conversations with people: "in the instant of realizing he was lost [in conversation], time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word an the next, or rather he became trapped in that space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him." [p 11] Alfred is emotionally anal retentive and this fixation troubles him later in the story. He will give no emotional support to his wife. "'Why are you so unhappy? Why won't you tell me?' [asked Enid]. 'I will go to the grave before I tell you. to the grave.'" [p 276]. Not exactly the basis of a happy marriage.
Enid, is having difficulty caring for Alfred and keeping up with managing the house. Her solution is to take Alfred on a cruise to see the Fall colors along the Atlantic Seaboard followed by Christmas at home where the whole family shows up.
Meanwhile the three adult children are going through crises of their own. Chip has left the university where he taught before gaining tenure; Gary, the other boy is having a midlife crisis and may or may not be clinically depressed. "He'd had the sense, moments earlier, that Caroline was on the verge of accusing him of being 'depressed,' and he was afraid that if the idea that he was depressed gained currency, he would forfeit his right to his opinions. He would forfeit his moral certainties; every word he spoke would become a symptom of disease; he would never again win an argument." [p 159]. And last but not least, the daughter, Denise, just lost her job as a top notch chef in Philadelphia.
Franzen does a great job weaving these stories together, devoting a chapter to each family member. The opening pages of each chapter describes interactions in various ways. The first chapter has Enid moving bags of unread mail around the house like a general keeping his troops from being attached by the enemy - Alfred.
I especially liked how he tied together thematic elements. Aslan is the lion in the C.S. Lewis series that one of Gary's kids is reading; it is also the name of a drug that Chip has taken and that Enid is prescribed on during the cruise. Furthermore the company that manufactures Aslan depends on a patent that Alfred filed and Gary strives to help get more money from the company for his father.
By the end of the story, everyone makes corrections. Some are physical - job and city changes; but not all. "'And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight - isn't that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes except that you see things differently and you're less fearful and less anxious and generally stronger as a result: isn't it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you've experienced before? You see things more clearly and you know that your seeing them more clearly.'" [p 302]
Franzen employs some beautiful imagery (which I'm a total sucker for)
- "Alfred gestured at his blue chair, which under the paperhanger's plastic dropcolths looked like something you might deliver to a power station on a flatbed truck." [p 9]
- "The light was the color of car sickness." [p 18]
- "Cauterized liver had the odor of fingers that had handled dirty coins." [p 251]
- "A dollop of mashed rutabaga at rest on a plate expressed a clear yellowish liquid similar to plasma or the matter in a blister." [p253]
- "Between his dry skin and his shakes, peeling the backing off a strop was like picking up a marble with two peacock feathers." [p 287]
- "Denise watched the sky stick forks of lightning into the slad of the trees on the Illinois horizon." [p 358]
- "His desire brought cool topical relief to the dryness and crackedness, the bodywide distress, of her person." [p 394]
This is a very good book and the recurring motifs and interlocking plot elements could be excellent for a book club discussion.