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The Corrections: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2002
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
If some authors are masters of suspense, others postmodern verbal acrobats, and still others complex-character pointillists, few excel in all three arenas. In his long-awaited third novel, Franzen does. Unlike his previous works, The 27th City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992), which tackled St. Louis and Boston, respectively, this one skips from city to city (New York; St. Jude; Philadelphia; Vilnius, Lithuania) as it follows the delamination of the Lambert family Alfred, once a rigid disciplinarian, flounders against Parkinson's-induced dementia; Enid, his loyal and embittered wife, lusts for the perfect Midwestern Christmas; Denise, their daughter, launches the hippest restaurant in Philly; and Gary, their oldest son, grapples with depression, while Chip, his brother, attempts to shore his eroding self-confidence by joining forces with a self-mocking, Eastern-Bloc politician. As in his other novels, Franzen blends these personal dramas with expert technical cartwheels and savage commentary on larger social issues, such as the imbecility of laissez-faire parenting and the farcical nature of U.S.-Third World relations. The result is a book made of equal parts fury and humor, one that takes a dry-eyed look at our culture, at our pains and insecurities, while offering hope that, occasionally at least, we can reach some kind of understanding. This is, simply, a masterpiece. Agent, Susan Golomb. (Sept.)Forecast: Franzen has always been a writer's writer and his previous novels have earned critical admiration, but his sales haven't yet reached the level of, say, Don DeLillo at his hottest. Still, if the ancillary rights sales and the buzz at BEA are any indication, The Corrections should be his breakout book. Its varied subject matter will endear it to a genre-crossing section of fans (both David Foster Wallace and Michael Cunningham contributed rave blurbs) and FSG's publicity campaign will guarantee plenty of press. QPB main, BOMC alternate. Foreign rights sold in the U.K., Denmark, Holland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Spain. Nine-city author tour.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Corrections is either a five star, or a one star book for most people. . . depending on your perspective. I graded the book a three, because I had quite a lot of both reactions that I share below. In deciding whether or not you should read this book, ignore the book's award and the book's controversy, but do pay attention to the next two paragraphs.
Here's who will hate it: Anyone who dislikes reading about unending emotional turmoil, depression, dementia, people messing up their lives, ugly family scenes, emotionally cold families, and the views of the well-educated, self-satisfied towards everyone else. Further groups who will be offended will include those who dislike extreme writing styles, slowly developing stories, and a strong sense of irony. Also, anyone from Lithuania or of Lithuanian ancestry will probably feel offended.
Here's who will love it: Anyone who liked John Cheever's Wapshot Chronicle and Wapshot Scandal, but would also like to see more of the interaction among the family members; those who enjoy writing that takes characters to the edge and tests them thoroughly with temptation and challenge in order to let their actions describe their personalities; those who enjoy satirical treatment of foibles of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom; and those who would like to read about a family with more problems than their own has. The writing itself will interest people who like to see new forms of narration, and appreciate an ability to switch smoothly between stream of consciousness and straight narration.
If you are in the latter category, read on.
I found the book noteworthy for capturing the politics and manipulation within families in an extremely convincing and revealing way. This subject is normally a taboo in our society.
The theme of corrections (whether in financial markets, in dealing with misbehavior, adjusting to new circumstances, or choosing the right path) is a good one for a novel about families, and I thought the theme was most imaginative and extremely well developed. If you are like me, be aware that the theme's full relevance will not start to hit you until the last 100 pages or so.
The book's focus, to me, was on the limits of our self-perceptions. We have a self-image and a way of internalizing the world. Often, the self-image and way of internalizing the world poorly capture what is really going on. As a result, we can misunderstand our circumstances, what others think of us, what is being communicated to us, and even ourselves. Getting past any self-delusion is important to freely finding and taking the right choices for ourselves. As you laugh while you read this book, I suggest that you laugh a little at yourself . . . and learn in the process.
The book's two best scenes are when Alfred comes home from an 11 hour day and runs into a little turbulence over dinner, and the scene in the ship's cabin when Alfred cannot wake Enid up. I wished that more of the writing had been this good. I look forward to reading more novels by Mr. Franzen in the future.
Where should you be more open to alternatives? What are others trying to tell you?
The myopic Enid and I are sisters. The highly principled, stoic Albert and my husband (albeit, sans illness) are made from the same cloth. We have a "Gary" and a "Denise" and five more independent, self-reliant, contributing members of society who refuse to be "Dollys" in a culture of consensus mentality.
Not EVERYONE has a hunky-dory existence. Some of us intelligent, well-educated people are struggling. Our children are far from perfect and struggling too. But we get up every morning, put one foot in front of the other, do the best we can, and hide our secrets behind forced smiles.
I was awestruck by JF's ability to get inside our minds and speak our thoughts, fears, so well. The dichotomy between the parents and their baby-boomer children, the difference in priorities, each defining "family values" as it suits them from a smorgasbord of choices, no two alike. It's amazing that, in the end, each Lambert does the right thing. They are a family after all.
God bless you, Jonathan Franzen, for writing a novel that needed to be written. Somehow I feel less alone knowing Enid is with me. For the rest of you naysayers, finish the book. Read and savor the first few pages. The writing is smooth as silk...