September 03, 2008

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen

I am still trying to decide if I enjoyed reading The Corrections. Maybe "enjoyed" is not the right word to use when trying to describe how I felt about this book, it was certainly compelling in an "I want to turn away but I can't" kind of way but to say it was an enjoyable book is probably going too far.

I have heard about the book a lot in recent years - not so much about the book in terms of plot or characters but about the existence of the book and how it is a "must read". It was selected by Oprah as one of her book club selections in 2001 and it has made many top 100 or must not miss reading lists. One of the reasons I have read it now is that I chose it as one of my selections for the New Classics Challenge.

The book tells the joint and individual stories of the Lambert family, a mid-west American family. The parents Enid and Alfred are struggling a little with the "empty nest" (Enid in particular) and the impact of Alfred's rapid decline into dementia. The three Lambert children are facing their own demons in separate parts of the country. The eldest Gary is battling depression (not that he wants to admit this) and the disintegration of his relationship with his wife and two eldest children. Middle child Chip was heading towards a glorious and stable academic career until he took time out to have a brief affair with one of his students - he is now trying to find a job and a relationship he can hold on to. Youngest child and only daughter Denise is working through her own relationship difficulties and attempting to discover her sexual identity amongst that.

The core bringing all of these stories together throughout the novel is the almost obsessive desire of Enid's - to have the whole family together for one last Christmas.

The language in the novel can be quite brutal and "in your face"- I think this is the main reason I feel I cannot honestly say I enjoyed the book. The writing is certainly quick and clever but I found it a little indulgent at times and this made some parts of the book (long descriptive pages) hard to get through. Having said that I did get through the book really quickly and the characters were really well developed - a key requirement for me in any good read.

Is this story a new classic? Not for me, but that might have something to do with my perception as an Australian - the context might have impacted on my judgement and appreciation of the book. I'm also thinking there are many levels to this book that couldn't possibly be taken in in just one reading of it. I'm just not that keen to go back in and try and locate them all!


jess said...

I remember really loving this book, but you know what, I can't quite remember why now. It was a while ago!

I think it was the characters that I really loved.

joanna said...

I can't believe this is so famous, I've never heard of it! :-) It sounds interesting though, I always like family tales, esp ones with big Christmas dinners! Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Karen said...

Hi Jess - Yes, I did like (and sometimes detest!) the characters - I think they were written really well. Just the overall book was a little full on for me I think!
Hi Joanna - it definitely is an interesting book and if you like those big family sagas you will probably like this one.

Jill said...

I'm just going to say it - I didn't really like this book. I read it earlier this year and had a hard time slogging through the second half. It was just so... depressing. And that weird psychedelic poop scene on the cruise ship? No thanks.