We’ll agree to disagree, world – “The Corrections” by Johnathan Franzen
Well, let me take that back. There’s a precocious little boy who reads “The Chronicles of Narnia.” But there really isn’t enough of him, as he’s pretty irrelevant to the plot, so really I’m just digressing….
Not that I necessarily need a likable character in the mix. I’m perfectly fine with the concept of anti-heroes, and don’t demand everything wind down to a rosy resolution in every book I pick up.
Sometimes, though, it’s awfully hard to get through 600 pages when the characters all seem to radiate nobly suffering elitism.
Am I being harsh? Probably not. I guess it’s just that this is the first book by Franzen I’ve read, and he may very well be a victim of hype. Every bit of press I’ve ever heard about him has made it sound like the second I opened one of his books I would find my life forever altered by the sheer genius of his prose. In reality, I found a solidly constructed novel with a few exceptionally written sentences and a cast of characters I didn’t find likable. Franzen can write well, but I guess it’s the things he chooses to write about that left me cold.
A thoroughly contemporary novel, “The Corrections” tells the story of a family in shambles. The father, Al, is dissolving into a cranky dementia, and mother Edie would like all the kids to come back together for what’s being called a “last Christmas.” Daughter Denise is a divorced chef. Son Gary is depressed, paranoid, and constantly at war with his wife and kids. Son Chip is basically a drifter, having been fired from a teaching job after having a relationship with a female student.
Will they all manage to come together one last time, and get over themselves enough to enjoy the holiday? Or will they all remain separate and miserable? Or will they all come together and still be miserable?
Why didn’t I care for it? First of all, there didn’t seem to be a point. So these people are miserable? And then what? There’s also a slightly misogynistic tinge to it all. Nearly every woman – despite the mother – has at least one reference made to how attractive she is, and of course it turns out that Denise is a lesbian.
There’s also, in all seriousness, a scene where Al has an imaginary conversation with a turd on a cruise ship. No joke. He’s talking to a turd. On a cruise ship. No matter how brilliant the author, that’s going to come off like a scene from South Park.
Also, once upon a time in a class about the history of theater, we studied “Hedda Gabler.” My teacher pointed out that, in a play, if you’re going to make the effort to point out to the audience/reader that a gun is around, you better be prepared to use it or have a reason for it. This theory had me in a tizzy through most of “The Corrections” wondering who was going to get shot, as so many mentions are made to the ill father’s possession of a gun. After all of that, no one gets shot. There, I spoiled it. Don’t hate me.
In the end, I think it’s all a book about correcting things, or at least trying to. The matriarch of a broken family, Edie is trying in her own crazy way to fix them – even for one short period at Christmas. Denise and Gary embark on an attempt to get Al onto a new medication that might be able to help his deterioration. And Chip, owing Denise a lot of money and desperate to not be a failure, winds up in Lithuania tangled up in all sorts of shady activities. The attempt to make things right, even if you fail at it, is the overreaching theme of the novel – maybe it’s even the point. Who knows?
I’m glad I read the book, as it’s one of those modern novels that seem to be on every list of great modern novels and now I can check it off my list. However, nothing about it really struck me or resonated with me, other than a few well-phrased sentences and tossed in moments of awesome writing.
You may disagree – it seems I’m among a small few who didn’t feel like reading this novel changed the color of the sky. But yeah, file this one under “Books I didn’t really care for.” Happily, I got my copy for $6.00 at a Used Book Store in Alpena, Michigan… My middle-class hometown.