Where to begin? I always find it hardest to review the books I like the most and that is certainly the case with The Corrections: A Novel. The book is at once insightful, sardonic, and humorous - and the writing is above reproach. It seems each word is carefully selected and the result is intelligent, impactful prose. However, at the same time, the writing is accessible which makes the 500+ page book move quickly.
The characters, and the readers' ability to invest in them, also makes the large book move quickly. At the center of this novel is the mid-western Lambert family in all their dysfunctional glory. The family is headed by Alfred, a retired engineer now trying to deny his progressive symptoms of Parkinson's and his wife, Enid who worries about everything and everyone in their family and seems haunted by what she has given up over the years for her family. The Lambert's have three children: Gary, the eldest, has moved East and is brow-beaten by his wife and children; Denise has a successful career as a chef at a the trendy restaurant Generator but her lovelife is less than successful as she dates married men or men with whom she has no future; Chip is a professor who gets fired from his job for sexual indiscretions with an undergrad and seems to be completely floundering when we first meet him.
Obviously, they each have their own complicated lives and issues but when you put them all together including all the transgressions they have committed against each other over the years, you get emotionally charged scenes escalating towards the Christmas that Enid insists they will all spend together. I think everyone can relate on some level to the dysfunction seen in the Lambert family - if not to the extreme seen in some of the family members, there are elements which are very resonant for most of us - and therein lies the success of this book. Many adult children can relate to Denise's reaction to a visit to her parent's home:
On her second day in St. Jude, as on the second day of every visit, she woke up angry. The anger was an autonomous neurochemical event; no stopping it. At breakfast, she was tortured by every word her mother said. Browning the ribs and soaking the sauerkraut according to ancestral custom rather than the modern style she had developed at the Generator, made her angry . . . The hundred-and-one refrigerator magnets, puppy-dog sentimental in their iconography and so feeble in their pull that you could scarcely open the door without sending a snapshot of Jonah or a postcard of Vienna swooping to the floor, filled her with rage.
What I found so smart about this passage is that Denise's fury appears on the second day - after all, she loves her parents and wants to have a successful visit but then is just overwhelmed by frustrations and begins to repeat patterns from her childhood. The book is filled with loaded family interactions and Franzen expertly sets up each scene.
I found reading The Corrections: A Novel to be a thoroughly satisfying experience and I will certainly be reading Freedom: A Novel - what I have learned from this experience is that sometimes hype is justified!
Have you or will you be reading either book?