The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Continuing where I left off, this week’s FBF is #23 on the All TIME 100 Best Novels list – The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections was published in 2001 and was awarded the National Book Award that same year. It was also awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2002. The novel is highly acclaimed and the vast majority of reviews of this work were very enthusiastic.
The Corrections does seem to be a departure from Franzen’s earlier books which seem to have had large scale exterior drama moving his plots whereas The Corrections seems to be more about internal drama. I read an very interesting interview with Franzen in Bomb Magazine just before this work was published where he discusses the difference between the drama in his novels. Here is a particularly interesting excerpt of Franzen’s words:
“We may freak out globally, but we suffer locally. Not that I take any particular credit for this shift of emphasis. Jane Smiley has this theory of an alternation of literary generations. Smiley thinks there are two fundamental possible preoccupations for the novelist. One is a kind of venturing forth to discover the wonders of the world, à la Robinson Crusoe or Don Quixote. That school of outward-looking fiction reaches its culmination in Candide, in which the world turns out to be full of horrors. Voltaire’s lesson is: Go home, cultivate your garden. And so the adventurous world-seeking novel is succeeded by the great 19th-century domestic novel. Which itself then culminates in Kafka: you can stay home, but home is a horror, too. Within American literature you find the venturing-forthness in Twain and Hemingway, the at-homeness in Wharton and O’Connor. The dichotomy is gender-specified to some extent. But I feel like I’m essentially participating in one of those swings, a swing away from the boys-will-be-boys Huck Finn thing, which is how you can view Pynchon, as adventures for boys out in the world. At a certain point, you get tired of all that. You come home.” (read the Bomb Magazine Interview with Franzen)
So what is Franzen’s The Corrections about? Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
“After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man—or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.”
Various reviewers have written about Franzen’s magnificent ability to take very serious issues and write about them authentically and still interlace them with some humourous stories in this book. And despite its length at nearly 600 pages it is all compelling and true of family life. I will admit that when I was a younger reader a tended toward books with big external drama driving the plots but now prefer to delve into these issues we face at home in our lives with others – the more internal issues we face in life. Not unlike Franzen’s change in focus for this novel. I am intrigued by The Corrections and have added it to my long TBR list.
“Despite a complex and involved plot, the driving force of the book is that simplest, most intricate of engines, the unhappy family. (…) The Corrections is a wide-open performance showcasing the full range of his skills and his eclectic intelligence.” – Stewart O’Nan, The Atlantic Monthly
You can read more excerpts from the various reviews of The Corrections on the Complete Review.
The Paris Review always has wonderful interviews with authors and they are always a joy to read. Franzen’s interview is The Art of Fiction no 207 if you’d like to read more about the author and his works.
Has anyone read this novel? what did you think of it?