I can get my life back now: I finally finished The
Corrections last night. Its a great book, it has some
amazing virtuoso writing in it, and it certainly kept me up until
5 in the morning more than once. The first, and best, chapter is a
masterpiece of satiricial prose: I havent read anything remotely
Infinite Jest, and this book is much, much easier to read,
although no less ambitious.
Actually, the chapter Im talking about is the second: the first
chapter is a very short modernist hump which the reader
has to get past before being allowed into the action. Since Franzen
himself in his novel admits on page 106 that it shouldnt be
there, I dont know why he kept it in. Maybe to dissuade Oprah
As Im sure you all know by now, the book follows a nuclear family
with three kids. Each chapter concentrates on one of the five principals,
and its interesting to see how reviewers have reacted to them.
I loved Chip, the younger son, who meets his parents at the aiport
at the beginning of the first (second) chapter only to suddenly disappear
off to Lithuania by its end. Chip gives Franzen the opportunity to
pull out all the stops: the scene where he shoplifts a $78.40 filet
of line-caught Norweigan salmon at a gourmet food market on Grand
Street called the Nightmare of Consumption is the funniest satire
of yuppie New York since the call-waiting scene in American
The following chapter, however, is not nearly as good. Its subject
is Gary, the eldest, who for my money is just a completely unhappy,
unlikeable and unimaginative capitalist. Hes depressed, of course,
so we cant blame him for being unhappy, but it doesnt
make the reading experience any better.
Then, after Gary, it all gets better, even if it never quite rises
to the heights of the first Chip chapter. Denise, the youngest, is
attractive enough to make female reviewers quite jealous, and its
always fun to read about her. (We could do less with reading about
those around her, though: her bosss wifes brothers
life story really isnt all that necessary, especially when we
have to get his father, uncle and grandfather too.)
But the real soul of the book lies in the portraits of the parents,
Alfred and Enid, and its there that the superlatives have really
been flying off the book-review pages. Alfred, the reserved patriarch,
is certainly the most lovingly-portrayed character in the book; Enid,
with her satirically exaggerated midwestern squareness, too often
comes off as a foil for her husband (and for the more refined sensibilities
of we, the readers).
But if the soul of the book is with Alfred and Enid, its driving force
is elsewhere, in the descriptions, the perfectly-formed paragraphs,
the beautifully set-up jokes. What Franzen has done and I cant
think of anybody with the possible exception of Updike whos
also done it is bring high-art writing into a page-turner of
a novel. I love Rushdie and Nabokov as much as anybody, but theyre
difficult; Franzen is just as beautifully written, but also
easy to read.
Its just a pity that the person finally managed to demolish
the crumbling barrier between highbrow and middlebrow happens to be
the same person who is now chiefly famous for sneering at Oprahs
book club. Still, at least hes managed to single-handedly relegate
Tom Wolfe into the has-been bin, and for that we should be grateful.
Great! There’s another book that I must have ~ the Corrections.
How I wish that I don’t have to order it online. I hope to buy it in our local store.
Thanks for a review.
Cess from porte serviette