The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

This was my second Franzen novel and I’m slowly becoming more & more of a fan.

The first few pages discouraged me. I didn’t find the characters interesting, I was impatient after finishing Freedom, the glorious, perfect read that it was. But I was reminded to remain focused. That the boring bits might be considered interesting later on & are sometimes necessary for a good read.

I started loving it because of one of the characters, Chip. If you don’t find the characters compelling after about the first 100 or 200 pages, you won’t like this entirely character focused story. The reader doesn’t have to like them, although I do, but there definitely needs to be an interest in their lives. Don’t judge the characters. Or do, but it’ll make for an awfully different read.

You get a peak into each of the family member’s life. Enid and Alfred live in the Midwest and their children, now grown, have spread toward the east. Gary, the oldest, is a responsible business man. His wife and children are incredibly materialistic, & he’s an archetype for many upper upper middle class husbands & fathers. Chip is an ex professor, current lost soul. He’s one of those, “I stand by my convictions” to a fault types, who isn’t without his own mistakes & guilt. Denise is a hot-shot chef with an awful string of botched relationships. The whole novel is basically just Enid trying to get her kids to come back home for Christmas, while we get several backstories along the way.

The title is important because it’s a nod to William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, but it also serves as a commentary on the economic corrections in America after the tech boom. But the main meaning is self analysis. Each of the characters, & probably the reader as well, is invited to explore the ways in which these characters try to correct flaws about themselves or in each other, as families & loved ones often do. Is change truly possible?

It’s a commentary, in Franzen fashion, on American society at the time right before 9/11 (it came out just days before). Materialism, marriage, even cruise ships, which Franzen believes were emblematic of our time in the way they’re portrayed here. All applied with the Tolstoyan skill of familial relationships, be it between father & son, mother & daughter, or husband & wife, etc.

The Corrections is a bit more post modern than Freedom & as a result, a lot more hilarious. Seriously, it gets funnier and funnier. The closer you get to the end, the more absurd you feel, but it manages to keep it’s realism. Franzen shared this story in Paris Review of an Italian man coming up to him after a reading & saying, “I don’t understand. You’re reading about people who are going through terrible pain, & everyone in the audience is laughing.”

To which Franzen believes he responded, “Exactly.”



8 thoughts on “The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

  1. ‘That the boring bits might be considered interesting later on & are sometimes necessary for a good read.’
    Your comment interested me because I’ve had a similar thought recently about a novel, though not this one. I had the failure to engage the reader at the beginning marked as a weakness, and it remains so for me, regardless of the relevance of the ‘boring bit’.
    I wonder whether you think all authors should be given a break in this respect – or only those with previous ‘bestsellers?. I just wanted your opinion as an English graduate with an interest in publishing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment! That’s a great question… I definitely think the text should be well structured & engaging & if there’s a part that is completely irrelevant, it’s probably best cut out. That being said, if a work is challenging or purposely esoteric, or maybe it has a slow start, I don’t think it’s a flaw of that work, I think it may be the readers job to engage in the work enough so that it can be read fully. In this particular case with The Corrections, it almost seemed to make sense because it was very comedic, but you have this simple, dull setting at the start. The text itself even mentions the importance of getting through a hump in entertainment before getting to the stuff of substance. & all of this, I think, depends entirely on the book itself. If you’re reading a fast paced mystery or action novel, it may not be best if the book is going nowhere for the first 20 pages. There are a lot of general rules about starting in the middle of the action & the importance of a great first sentence & I think they should be followed, but if the book requires breaking a rule here & there, then that’s fine too. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Boring’ and ‘dull’ are so subjective, as indeed are the very emotions that go into loving or hating a work of literature. It seems to me that anything which adds to, and is necessary to that work should at least be interesting, such as one might find in the build-up of one of the ‘classics’. That said , I agree with much of what you say.
    I’m not a great fan of rules. A good book/writer can break the so-called rules with impunity. Raised on the ‘classics’ as I was, I like to give all writers the benefit of my patience (unless the build-up goes on too long, of course).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This has recently made it onto my favourite novels list. But I get the feeling it’s love it or loathe it book and I’m very much in the love it camp. The cynicism becomes a bit suffocating at times but overall it leaves me in awe at what Franzen has achieved with language.

    Liked by 1 person

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