Monday, June 14, 2010

#12 - "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen

The twelfth book is finished.  The Corrections went by incredibly fast, especially considering it is the second longest book I've read so far.  (Midnight's Children currently holds that title at 589 pages.)  The Corrections is also the newest book I've read so far, by almost 14 years, having been written in 2001.  As I had decided not to 'expect' anything going into these books I know nothing about and I went into The Corrections with a clear mind; for once I was truly not expecting anything.

I was asked what kind of book The Corrections was the other day.  I've been thinking about that question ever since, unsure of how to answer.  It isn't a mystery, it isn't a comedy, it isn't...well I can't really think of any category it would fit into.  Following the Lamberts, The Corrections follows the family in a build up to 'one last Christmas at home.'  Enid, the mother of the clan, is longing for her one last Christmas, and is expecting her three grown up children to make her wish come true.  Of course, there are many problems.  Enid is the obsessive housewife, determined to have Christmas occur without incident, despite everything going on around her.  Alfred, the husband, battles Parkinson's disease, dementia, and bladder control problems.  The three Lambert children, all of whom live on the East coast, far away from their parents, have their share of problems as well.

Chip is a struggling screenwriter and disgraced former professor, trying to find himself by wearing leather pants and getting as many piercings as possible.  His sister Denise, a famous chef, is trying to find her self and her sexuality, sleeping with a variety of men and women.  Their oldest brother Gary, living comfortably in a Philadelphia suburb, lacks self-confidence, and for that matter, real happiness.  The hope is of course, that the one last Christmas at the family home in fictional St. Jude will bring everybody together and allow for the family's problems to melt away into a Norman Rockwell painting.

What I found so enjoyable about reading The Corrections was the, for lack of a better term, believability of the characters.  Divided into five 'chapters', the book looks at the back story of each member of the Lambert family, exploring not only their shared histories, but also looking at their experiences outside the family.  I found that whichever character the book was focusing on, became my favorite member of the Lambert family.  I don't know how else to explain it.  When the novel was following Chip through a disastrous relationship, or a failed business venture, I found myself 'cheering' for him, and in a way despising his siblings.  But when the story centered around Gary, it was Chip who annoyed me, and Gary becoming the hero.  But ultimately, I liked almost all of the characters in the book, and in the end, I was hoping that 'one last Christmas' at the family house would fix the Lambert's problems.  Could the magic of Christmas bring a family together, and allow them to put aside their differences and forget their troubles, if only for a couple of days?

I found The Corrections to be a roller coaster of emotions, with outlandish yet realistic events, annoying but likable characters, in tragic but funny situations.  This was a book that made me laugh, nearly made me cry (I'd admit it if it did), pissed me off, elated me, and most importantly, entertained me.

 You can read Time Magazine's original review from September 10, 2001 right here.

I have one more book on loan from the library right now, Atonement, so I'll probably be reading that next.

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