Derek's Reviews > The Corrections

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
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Jan 11, 2012

it was amazing

That I was so resistant to Jonathan Franzen (and to The Corrections, in particular) for so long will remain one of my great reading regrets. What was I thinking? What was I afraid this book might do? What led me to believe that this would be self-serving or middlebrow or whatever else I unjustly assumed about Franzen? Maybe it was some vague recollection of the undeserved ire directed at Franzen following the Oprah's Book Club debacle (a debate on which I decidedly sympathize with Franzen). Maybe it was all the press for Freedom, which seemed far too ebullient in its hand-wringing praise. Maybe I was, or am, just jealous. But The Corrections is one of those once-in-a-long-time books, with characters and a narrative that stick with you long after you've walked away from it, coloring your readings of other, lesser books.

What's most remarkable about this book, and the fact from which all of the good things about it stem, is how thoroughly imagined these characters are. I've read interviews with Franzen in which he describes the self-sequestering writing process that he goes through to write his novels, and that comes as no surprise: these characters are written with breathtaking imagination and clarity. It's a tired phrase, but it's true: I feel like I know these people. Criticisms that such writing is self-indulgent baffle me; if we're not reading to see characters presented so clearly (and in them, mirrors of ourselves), then why the hell are we reading? Entertainment? Escape? Guh. Spare me.

It's far from a perfect book, to be sure. A nonsensical Albert hallucination where turds function as soldiers should've been quashed by a brave editor; its inclusion is unforgivable. The plottiness of Chip's section once he goes overseas reads like a pulp thriller, at times. But these missteps are minor in light of the towering achievements that accompany them: Denise's fucked-up sexuality explored with honesty and thoroughness, Gary's reprehensible family life and the alcoholism he uses to deal with it, the troubles of a marriage as long-term as Albert and Enid's. And most breathtaking, the achievement under which all achievements in the novel reside, is how beautifully and honestly and terribly Franzen describes Albert's descent into Parkinson's. That someone can read those sections and not love this book is amazing to me.

So, okay, three paragraphs of effusive praise, the very kind that made me resistant to Franzen in the first place. But I can't help myself. I'm officially on the bandwagon. All other Franzen books, here I fucking come.
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