The Corrections

I can get my life back now: I finally finished The

Corrections last night. It’s 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 haven’t read anything remotely

as funny since

Infinite Jest, and this book is much, much easier to read,

although no less ambitious.

Actually, the chapter I’m 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 shouldn’t be

there, I don’t know why he kept it in. Maybe to dissuade Oprah

from adopting

the book?

As I’m 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 it’s 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. He’s depressed, of course,

so we can’t blame him for being unhappy, but it doesn’t

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 it’s

always fun to read about her. (We could do less with reading about

those around her, though: her boss’s wife’s brother’s

life story really isn’t 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 it’s 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 can’t

think of anybody with the possible exception of Updike who’s

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 they’re

difficult; Franzen is just as beautifully written, but also

easy to read.

It’s 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 Oprah’s

book club. Still, at least he’s managed to single-handedly relegate

Tom Wolfe into the has-been bin, and for that we should be grateful.

This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Corrections

  1. Cess says:

    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 

Comments are closed.