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'The Corrections', Jonathan Franzen
It seems to me the one word which best describes Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections© is contemporary.  The setting is the U. S. of the late 20th century and a Baltic state in turmoil.  The characters are contemporaneously middle and upper middle class, and the theme is rooted in familial dynamics as brothers and a sister of the family take aim, although sometimes the aim is on them, within society.  It reminds me of Death of a Salesman© by Arthur Miller.

Literally, 'Corrections' is the term describing the stock markets decline as overpriced stocks lose value.  Metaphorically, it's the individuals 'corrections' as decisions of personal, adult choice are misplayed into various disasters, usually minor disasters. The characters, not wanting to repeat the infeasibility of these decisions, then make 'corrections' to their life habits.

The way the book proceeds is by having
a narrator recount the pursuits of Enid and Alfred Lambert, and their adult children, Gary, Chip and Denise. The characters are strong individuals with multiple facets .  They all have some self-vexation associated with their lives. Sometimes they blame others, sometimes they see their own self-inflicted blemishes. The albatross they carry around is a sort of invisble but manageable weight.  It helps lead them to do this or that with their free will. The 'this-or-that' usually ends up being a vexation for them.   

The novel is insightful and compassionate but the writing is not the most evocative.  Most of the time I read the characters plights distantly.  I couldn't quite connect with why they were doing what they were doing.  However, it was a fun and insightful reading nonetheless. The authorial style of switching between 3rd person objective;

"Don't spoil your appetite, guys," Gary said in a strained voice, taking food from plastic compartments.
Again mother and son traded glances.
"Yea, right," Caleb said.  "Gotta save room for mixed grill."
Gary energetically sliced meats and skewered vegetables.  Jonah set the table, spacing flatware with the precision that he liked.  The rain had stopped but the deck was still slippery when Gary went outside.

and 3rd person omniscient;

It had started as a family joke: Dad always orders mixed grill in restaurants, Dad only wants to go to restaurants with mixed grill on the menu.  To Gary there was indeed something endlessly delicious, something irresistibly luxurious, about a bit of lamb, a bit of pork, a bit of veal . . .1

was sometimes befogging.  I couldn't let the 3rd person objective point-of-view evoke much emotion.   As I read on, frequently, 2 or 3 paragraphs of objective voice would lead to an omniscient point-of-view that had me feeling swamped, as if I'd been inundated by a surge of omniscience.  A wonder and sense of adventure at the characters adventures compensated for the unevocativeness.

I'd characterize Mr Franzen's voice as a blue-collar, exoteric telling.  It's less of a high-brow, esoteric considering. I have this image of Mr. Franzen driving an old pickup truck on some dirt road, dust lifted off the road into eddys by the trucks wake, with the crawl space behind the truck seats cluttered with tools, fast food garbage, rags, and among the junk are strewn 6 or 7 college degrees.  But in spite of this erudition his writing seems less tinged with doubt, less angst-y than other contemporary writers.  The style is sure, erudite, and compassionate.

So, a couple more bothersome points in a very good book about which I can't quite pinpoint it's charisma.  Sometimes it seems as though he's writing for an audience of the future.  People of the year 2045 or 2100 who might want to know what life was like in 'these' times, seems somehow to be his real audience.  Additionally, the resolution or ending seems somewhat rushed as if a publication deadline were near.

I feel like I'll forget all the characters of this novel in a few weeks, but I won't forget the author's strength and surety of voice.

Also, I feel obligated to mention that there are, as seems to be the case with most modern literature, some sex scenes. Those scenes can be teeth-grindingly irritating, depending on how well you stomach those kind of things.

Jonathan Franzen has another award winning book entitled Freedom©, but I doubt I'll read it anytime soon.  I can't imagine, of what I've read about it, that it's a lot different than The Corrections©.  However, he also has a memoir of his childhood and youth entitled The Discomfort Zone©.  Mr. Franzen has a keen, observant eye, and writes with such a real sense of compassion, that the scrutiny of his boyhood and youth, seems to me, can't be anything but courageous in what it bares and hopefully supportive of his young self's heart.  I'm really looking forward to getting hold of The Discomfort Zone©.


1The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen,
©2001, Picador®, pg. 162
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