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.”