The Corrections is either a five star, or a one star book for most people. . . depending on your perspective. I graded the book a three, because I had quite a lot of both reactions that I share below. In deciding whether or not you should read this book, ignore the book's award and the book's controversy, but do pay attention to the next two paragraphs.
Here's who will hate it: Anyone who dislikes reading about unending emotional turmoil, depression, dementia, people messing up their lives, ugly family scenes, emotionally cold families, and the views of the well-educated, self-satisfied towards everyone else. Further groups who will be offended will include those who dislike extreme writing styles, slowly developing stories, and a strong sense of irony. Also, anyone from Lithuania or of Lithuanian ancestry will probably feel offended.
Here's who will love it: Anyone who liked John Cheever's Wapshot Chronicle and Wapshot Scandal, but would also like to see more of the interaction among the family members; those who enjoy writing that takes characters to the edge and tests them thoroughly with temptation and challenge in order to let their actions describe their personalities; those who enjoy satirical treatment of foibles of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom; and those who would like to read about a family with more problems than their own has. The writing itself will interest people who like to see new forms of narration, and appreciate an ability to switch smoothly between stream of consciousness and straight narration.
If you are in the latter category, read on.
I found the book noteworthy for capturing the politics and manipulation within families in an extremely convincing and revealing way. This subject is normally a taboo in our society.
The theme of corrections (whether in financial markets, in dealing with misbehavior, adjusting to new circumstances, or choosing the right path) is a good one for a novel about families, and I thought the theme was most imaginative and extremely well developed. If you are like me, be aware that the theme's full relevance will not start to hit you until the last 100 pages or so.
The book's focus, to me, was on the limits of our self-perceptions. We have a self-image and a way of internalizing the world. Often, the self-image and way of internalizing the world poorly capture what is really going on. As a result, we can misunderstand our circumstances, what others think of us, what is being communicated to us, and even ourselves. Getting past any self-delusion is important to freely finding and taking the right choices for ourselves. As you laugh while you read this book, I suggest that you laugh a little at yourself . . . and learn in the process.
The book's two best scenes are when Alfred comes home from an 11 hour day and runs into a little turbulence over dinner, and the scene in the ship's cabin when Alfred cannot wake Enid up. I wished that more of the writing had been this good. I look forward to reading more novels by Mr. Franzen in the future.
Where should you be more open to alternatives? What are others trying to tell you?
The myopic Enid and I are sisters. The highly principled, stoic Albert and my husband (albeit, sans illness) are made from the same cloth. We have a "Gary" and a "Denise" and five more independent, self-reliant, contributing members of society who refuse to be "Dollys" in a culture of consensus mentality.
Not EVERYONE has a hunky-dory existence. Some of us intelligent, well-educated people are struggling. Our children are far from perfect and struggling too. But we get up every morning, put one foot in front of the other, do the best we can, and hide our secrets behind forced smiles.
I was awestruck by JF's ability to get inside our minds and speak our thoughts, fears, so well. The dichotomy between the parents and their baby-boomer children, the difference in priorities, each defining "family values" as it suits them from a smorgasbord of choices, no two alike. It's amazing that, in the end, each Lambert does the right thing. They are a family after all.
God bless you, Jonathan Franzen, for writing a novel that needed to be written. Somehow I feel less alone knowing Enid is with me. For the rest of you naysayers, finish the book. Read and savor the first few pages. The writing is smooth as silk...