The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Corrections is a modern day novel about a dysfunctional American family; an old fashioned pompous authoritative father who is suffering from advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease, a pretentious mother who with deep resentment spent her entire married life being subservient to the man of the house, and three grown children who escaped the mundane mid-western middle class household to pursue exciting careers on the East Coast.
The story jumps back and forth between all the family members, sometimes bringing to light incidents from the past. Mom (Enid Lambert) spends most of her time in denial about her husband Alfred’s deteriorating health, trying to hide his severe symptoms from friends and neighbors, while complaining to the kids about how bad he really is. Enid knows Alfred’s health is failing fast and downsizing will soon be a financial necessity, so feeling sentimental she is trying to convince the kids to return home for one last Christmas in the family house. But family get-togethers had always been tense, awkward occasions, even in the best of times.
This book presents an ugly, painful, in-your-face illustration of what it is like to live with Parkinson’s Disease. And each of the children, presumably successful and happy, are in reality, dealing with their own issues; unsatisfying relationships, depression, job failures, misdirected ambition, and lack of integrity. They rarely communicate with each other, and about the only thing they share in common is the joy of having escaped their childhood lifestyle and a lack of admiration for their parents. In fact, the oldest son Gary’s entire adult life was deliberately modeled as a correction of his father’s life. At some point during the story, each of the family members tries to consciously make a correction in the way they live.
At times The Corrections was difficult to read; brutally honest, sad, disturbing, and filled with raw emotion. Jonathan Franzen, like a lot of modern writers, conspicuously over dramatizes the negative to a point where it is crudely excessive and appears contrived but he certainly makes a statement.
We all like to think of ourselves as good, virtuous people, or at least that our good qualities outweigh our bad, but reading about the Lambert family made me realize that sometimes just a few bad qualities can mar a person’s character so badly that it can lead to irrevocable damage of relationships, poor decisions, and perpetual generation-to-generation negativity. Overall, the plot was realistic but depressing, the characters brilliantly developed but unlikable, and the book was worthy of the acclaimed National Book Award.
Rated 4 Stars.
All contents © 2014 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.