Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections


A nuclear family seemingly enjoys Christmas Dinner.

A nuclear family seemingly enjoys Christmas Dinner.

*1001 Books Book

Franzen, J. (2001). The corrections. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

When I saw this book in the 1001 Books tome and Arukiyomi’s review, I found myself drawn to the cover. The jacket offers the viewer a glimpse of a traditional late 1950s to early 1960s family gathered for a holiday meal. Looking closer, I saw part of a happy boy’s face and the full shot of another boy’s face; this one not so perky. In fact, he looked burdened with displeasure. Although the book is quite thick (about 600 pages), I read The Corrections pretty rapidly.

The Lamberts appears as the typical dysfunctional, American family in which each member seeks out some sort of fix for whatever ails him or her.  Published just before 9/11, the Lamberts of the Midwestern St. Jude want correction. Alfred Lambert, the father, now suffers from the isolating dimensia that is Parkinson’s Disease. His wife, Enid, is riddled with shame and anxiety.

They have three grown children; Gary, Chip, and Denise. All three kids live in the Northeast. Gary, the oldest, looks to be a successful Philadelphia banker with a wife and three sons. Yet, Gary may unravel due to possible clinical depression and paranoia egged on by his wife, Caroline.

Chip is Alfred and Enid’s second son. While Chip was on his way to tenure at a Northeast college, he was forced to resign after his affair with a student. Now, he writes and looks for correction in working for a Lithuanian mob boss. He feels his parents are the source of all of his problems.

The youngest is Denise, a beautiful and competitive chef in Philadelphia. She’s also a divorcee and under the constant pressure from Enid to marry a nice, young man. Enid believes Denise to be having an affair.

Enid wants desperately for all of the Lamberts to gather at their home in St. Jude for one last Christmas. Alfred is getting on in years and surely they will be moving to be closer to their children. Well, whether or not any of this happens is anyone’s guess . . .

One major theme in this socially critical novel is reflected by the title – correction. It argues that the next generation is to learn from the preceding one what not to do. As that old saying goes, “Learn from your parents mistakes.” I can buy this to a certain extent. Yet, as reviewer Arukiyomi said of this very book, I also find that Jesus’ death is the ultimate correction. Yes, there’s still need for atonement and redemption but this takes a more Divine Intervention if you ask me. However, I saw many of the characters turning to narcotics, alcohol, sex, etc, etc in order to treat the challenges they faced. Ultimately, I still debate whether or not the Lamberts really were “cured” in the end. Some appeared to doggedly accept their plights while others became satisfied without admitting they had problems.

I liked parts of this book. Even as much distance Gary, Chip, and Denise try to put between themselves and their parents (physically, mentally, emotionally) they are still tethered to Alfred and Enid. This is just life. Another thing which amused me was how Franzen referred to Chip’s former employer as D—- College.

I found much of it reminiscent of Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Both books have dysfunctional families with three children – the two eldest being boys, the youngest – a girl. While Tyler seems to keep a respectful distance when it comes to certain aspects in her characters’ lives, Franzen is much closer and much much more personal.

I found that Franzen firmly grasped the characters of Gary, Enid, and Chip. I didn’t know what to make of Denise. Not for the obvious reasons, but she seemed quite male. Alfred truly put the hysterical into hysterical realism.

Places: St. Jude, American Midwest, Philadelphia, New York, American Northeast, Lithuania, Eastern Europe

Three Out of Five Pearls

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