After the author’s hot-winded intellectual snobbery and overall poor public relations, I really wanted to hate The Corrections [Farrar, Straus, Giroux] by Jonathan Franzen. I mean, one doesn’t publicly diss a media/culture goddess like Oprah and get away with it easily. In fact, it would have to be one damn fine book to withstand the hurricane of negative press and gossip surrounding Franzen. Lucky for him, he’s pulled it off.
The Corrections tells the tale of the Lambert family, from their humble roots in the Midwestern suburb of St. Jude and into the big cities of Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and beyond (far beyond—Lithuania, to be exact). These characters are people we know so well: our parents, our neighbors, our friends, and sometimes unfortunately, ourselves. We love them for their petty lies and self-deceit as much as for their unblinking optimism and belief in things like writing the blockbuster screenplay or sharing the perfect Christmas with family.
The Lambert’s try to hold their world together with the props and rituals of our culture. The mother basks in the false accomplishments of her children, while they actively create vastly diverse personas to hide the shame of who they really are. Through their uniquely different breakdowns and clinical depression, their varying drug abuse, insecurities and pain-- believe it or not-- it’s actually a pretty funny book. Franzen’s wry, sharp humor and over-the-top scenes save this from being the total downer it could easily have become.
Full of experimental twists, a character in the novel is working on a screenplay with a mirror theme to the book that’s created him. The structure veers in and out of literary prose, told in an omniscient voice that moves from perspective to perspective. The writer plays with words such as “corrections,” and symbology such as Aslan the Lion from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, using them in many different situations and contexts, adding layers to this read that both intrigue and satisfy.
The story and social forces weave in and out of each other, constantly referring back and forth. Franzen ultimately connects the personal and social big picture successfully, leaving the reader uplifted without the smarmy sentimentality of a classic happy ending. While The Corrections may not be The Great American Novel For The Ages, it certainly holds the position of Great for Now, and has deservedly won its place for the Best Book of 2001 by many critics.