Kemper's Reviews > The Corrections

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
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Jul 22, 10

bookshelves: 100, plain-old-fiction, modern-lit, we-are-family
Read from July 08 to 15, 2010

While reading The Corrections I really understood the meaning of ‘schadenfreude’ because I despised almost every character in this book so much that the more miserable their lives got, the more enjoyment I took from it. And when a shotgun was introduced late in the novel, I read the rest of it with my fingers crossed while muttering "Please please please please please please..." in the hope that at least one of those pitiful shits would end up taking a load of buckshot to the face.

The Lambert’s are a Midwestern family, and while the grown children have all moved to Philadelphia and New York, the parents have remained in St. Jude. The father, Alfred, was a workaholic middle manager for a railroad and he's the kind of joyless repressed bastard that considered all pleasures frivolous and taking a coffee break as a massive character flaw. Now retired, he’s suffering from Parkinson's and dementia. He deserves it.

Enid is the mother. (Seriously, Franzen? Enid? I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life and have never met an Enid. I know you were making a point on how square the old school Midwesterners are, but that‘s pushing it.) She’s a delusional nagging harpy from hell who aims her passive aggressive attacks at whichever family member has recently burst the bubble of whatever fantasy she is currently clinging to. Through most of the book, Enid has her heart set on one last family Christmas at the house in St. Jude, and the evil bitch will stop at nothing to get it.

Gary is the oldest and a successful investment adviser in Philly, but he married a woman who wants all ties severed with his family and has a special way of getting his sons to join her in her efforts. Torn between trying to placate his wife and his mother while letting their denials of reality make him crazy and trying to be 'the responsible one', Gary is running himself ragged to avoid admitting that he’s depressed. Someone should pimp slap him so hard that his fillings fly out of his teeth.

Chip, the middle son, is a waste of skin with a special talent for self-destruction. He torched his academic career as a professor just as he was about to get tenure by having an affair with a student and then becoming obsessed with her. He’s now a mooch in New York working on a screenplay so horrible that it'd make a Michael Bay movie look good by comparison. He’s also the kind of douche bag who thinks that getting rivets put in his ears and wearing leather pants is cool even though he’s over thirty.

Denise is the one character that I actually had some sympathy for. A daddy’s girl who adopted Alfred’s work ethic, she’s a successful chef of an upscale restaurant, but she’s also got a messy personal life, including trying to figure out her sexuality. At least she’s the one member of this dysfunctional hellspawned family that knows she has issues and tries not to deceive herself any more than most people do.

The weird thing is that even though I loathed the Lamberts and almost every supporting character, too, that I actually enjoyed this book. I usually can’t stand stories where all the characters’ problems are self-inflicted emotional wounds due to a basic refusal to admit and face reality. However, I have to admit that I found this compelling reading. Maybe I was into it for all the wrong reasons. Namely, that I hated the Lamberts so much that their continued suffering brought sweet tears of joy to my eyes. That’s probably not what Franzen intended, but he had to create some incredibly vivid characters and do justice to their pathetic lives to make me hate them so very, very much.
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Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent Are you reading this because it was mentioned in a Simpsons episode?


Kemper Dan wrote: "Are you reading this because it was mentioned in a Simpsons episode?"

This is part of my stupid effort to better myself. I'm trying to read all of the books that Time magazine named as 100 greatest since they started publishing. I picked this one up for a super cheap price at 1/2 Price Books so it became next on the list.


message 3: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent Bettering oneself sounds like a lot of work. How far down the list are you and is there a reward at the end? And if so, is the reward bacon-related in any way?


Kemper Dan wrote: "Bettering oneself sounds like a lot of work. How far down the list are you and is there a reward at the end? And if so, is the reward bacon-related in any way?"

I've got 35 out of 100. Some I had read before, but I've been working on it since late last summer and progress has been slow. I've got them listed on my shelf called 100 if you want to point and mock. My reward will be the ability to engage in literary discussions and snootily say things like, "Ah, but if you had simply read all of Time's list of greatest novels, you'd have a much better understanding of modern literature."

BTW, you get an assist on this project because Siddhartha was one of them, and it was your review that prompted me to check it out.


message 5: by Megha (new)

Megha If Franzen could create characters that were compelling enough for a reader to actually hate them, I would say he is a good author. :)


message 6: by Kemper (last edited Jul 16, 2010 06:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kemper mp wrote: "If Franzen could create characters that were compelling enough for a reader to actually hate them, I would say he is a good author. :)"


I agree, but it's an odd thing. I thought I hated the book about half-way through it, but then I realized that I actually loved the writing and couldn't wait to pick it up and start reading every night. That's when it hit me that I was reacting to the characters and not the book itself. I wouldn't want every book to be like it but it took a lot of skill to make it work.


Ellen Kemper wrote: "Dan wrote: "Are you reading this because it was mentioned in a Simpsons episode?"

This is part of my stupid effort to better myself. I'm trying to read all of the books that Time magazine named ..."


Are you kidding me? No way should this book rank in the top 100 books of anything.

Your review made me laugh and brought back some of the reasons I detested it so when I read it years ago. I might have to read it again, though, because you're the second person who's found redeeming qualities in it.


Chloe That's a great point, Kemper. I loathed every character while I was reading it and for a long time thought I hated the book because of it. Still, if a book can give me such a visceral reaction then it has to be worth something.

I'm interested in trying out his memoir, The Discomfort Zone, to see how much matches up with The Corrections.


Kemper Ellen wrote: "Kemper wrote: "Dan wrote: "Are you reading this because it was mentioned in a Simpsons episode?"

This is part of my stupid effort to better myself. I'm trying to read all of the books that Time ..."


I found that once I really embraced the hate, I started enjoying the book a lot more. I think that's the key; to wallow in their misery.


Kemper Logan wrote: "That's a great point, Kemper. I loathed every character while I was reading it and for a long time thought I hated the book because of it. Still, if a book can give me such a visceral reaction then..."

It was a really weird reading experience because I can't think of another book I've read where I had such contempt for almost everyone in it, but still enjoyed it. He's got a new novel coming out later this year called Freedom, and that's going to be my big test. I'll try it and hope that maybe there will be some characters that I actaully like in that one because I don't think it's something that could be done more than once.


message 11: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie ooooo. I started reading this when it was first published and could not finish it! I hated it so much. But I have to say with that fantastic review, I'm goning to give it another go (gulp!)

I'm even inspired enough to tackle that Times list.


message 12: by James (new)

James Thane I agree with Kemper and Logan. I absolutely hated all these characters, but I couldn't stop reading the book. Still, I was never able to figure out why Oprah would have made this one of her book club selections--not because it isn't a good book, but because it just doesn't seem at all the sort of book she would normally choose.


Kemper Stephanie wrote: "ooooo. I started reading this when it was first published and could not finish it! I hated it so much. But I have to say with that fantastic review, I'm goning to give it another go (gulp!)

I'm..."


If you try it again, my advice is to focus on how miserable their lives are and then enjoy the ride as it gets worse.


Kemper James wrote: "I agree with Kemper and Logan. I absolutely hated all these characters, but I couldn't stop reading the book. Still, I was never able to figure out why Oprah would have made this one of her book cl..."

I think Oprah's got a bit of a sadistic streak in her and that she enjoys picking books that will depress the hell out of her audience. I couldn't believe she picked The Road, but it makes sense in that context..


message 15: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie I'll do that Kemper. It's like, when other people's lives are sooo bad you think to yourself, at least my life is not THAT bad.....kind of thing.

PS. Loved The Road. Oprah, god love her, gets kind of random.


message 16: by Sean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sean I think some of the satire may have been missed...


message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Klappenskoff Kemper wrote: "The weird thing is that even though I loathed the Lamberts and almost every supporting character, too, that I actually enjoyed this book."

It takes a bucket-load of honesty to say this.

I loved your review, even though I didn't really loathe any of the characters.


Kemper Ian wrote: "Kemper wrote: "The weird thing is that even though I loathed the Lamberts and almost every supporting character, too, that I actually enjoyed this book."

It takes a bucket-load of honesty to say t..."


Thanks!


Mandy Have just started this book, but entirely agree with Kemper. Loathe the characters so much that I am liking the book so far!


Kemper Mandy wrote: "Have just started this book, but entirely agree with Kemper. Loathe the characters so much that I am liking the book so far!"

Enjoy the hate. I did.


message 21: by Gunner (new) - added it

Gunner McGrath I picked this one up for a super cheap price at 1/2 Price Books so it became next on the list.

Hah, yeah I own this one only because my thrift store had a 10 books for $1 sale and I needed an even 10 for the deal. 10 cents for a hardcover ain't bad. I usually don't like books where I hate all the characters either, but your review makes it a little more likely that I'll actually read it someday. =)


message 22: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Kleinman Wonderful review! I thought each character was a pretty awful human being at first (with the exception of Denise), but I did end up feeling some sympathy towards Enid and Gary. And a tiny bit for Alfred. Hard to muster up any for Chip, except for the one scene from his childhood


Kemper Beth wrote: "Wonderful review! I thought each character was a pretty awful human being at first (with the exception of Denise), but I did end up feeling some sympathy towards Enid and Gary. And a tiny bit for A..."

Thanks! Denise was the only one I could muster any sympathy for.


Cristina Jinga Thank you for the idea of negative praise book review - I'll try it myself.


message 25: by Rachael (new)

Rachael Amazing review....
you are exactly the type of reader I would love to have in a book club. this review almost makes me want to read it again. maybe I'll just pick up freedom instead.


Kemper Rachael wrote: "Amazing review....
you are exactly the type of reader I would love to have in a book club. this review almost makes me want to read it again. maybe I'll just pick up freedom instead."


Thanks. For what it's worth, I liked Freedom more than this one.


Axolotl I want to take an educated guess and say that if you were able in real-life to have the eye view (and mind view) that a novel often affords a reader, than you would hate--and not just a little--something on the order of two thirds of human individuals--even those you (think you) know quite well.


Kemper Axolotl wrote: "I want to take an educated guess and say that if you were able in real-life to have the eye view (and mind view) that a novel often affords a reader, than you would hate--and not just a little--som..."

I think you're low on your estimate. I hate a full 85% to 90% of humanity without even needing the benefit of a novel.


Axolotl You're quite correct about the "low-balling" of my estimate.

Given your reply to my message, it should have come as no surprise that given the special access you had to the lives of these characters that you would inevitably come to hate them; knowing what you came to know about them. In addition to the honesty of the portrayal of the characters in all their cringe-worthiness, the admirable trick which Franzen pulled off was that he allows you to hate the characters but doesn't go so far as to allow you to totally despise them, either. It is my feeling that the reader comes to recognize too much of themselves--at least in aspect--in the characters for this to be.
After all, you can hate yourself, you can let yourself down, but it is quite difficult to feel superior to yourself and therefore actually to despise yourself.


Axolotl fully agree with you on the name "Enid"!


Kemper Axolotl wrote: "You're quite correct about the "low-balling" of my estimate.

Given your reply to my message, it should have come as no surprise that given the special access you had to the lives of these charact..."


Or they were just a pack of assholes.


Jonathan Peto Kemper wrote: "Or they were just a pack of assholes."

Where I grew up a group of assholes is usually referred to as a "bunch", not a "pack". Maybe some authority should standardize it.


Axolotl I too prefer "bunch" but like the idea of a "cluster".


message 34: by Lyn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lyn Reading it now, great review. I have already begun to dislike Chip and I can see the animosity building


Kemper Lyn wrote: "Reading it now, great review. I have already begun to dislike Chip and I can see the animosity building"

You'll be hatin' all of them before too long.


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