Friday, May 15, 2009

44. The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

History: Published in 2001. The novel was a selection of Oprah's Book Club in 2001. Franzen caused some controversy when he publicly expressed his ambivalence at his novel having been chosen by the club due to its inevitable association with the "schmaltzy" books selected in the past. As a result, he was uninvited from The Oprah Winfrey Show, though the book club still discussed the novel without him. In an article for a Newsweek piece on American culture during the George W. Bush administration, Jennie Yabroff said that despite being released less than a year into Bush's term and before the September 11 attacks, The Corrections "anticipates almost eerily the major concerns of the next seven years." According to Yarboff, a study of The Corrections demonstrates that much of the apprehension and disquiet that is seen as characteristic of the Bush era and post-9/11 America actually predated both. In this way, the novel is both characteristic of its time and prophetic of things to come; for Yabroff, even the controversy with Oprah, which saw Franzen branded an "elitist", was symptomatic of the subsequent course of American culture, with its increasingly prominent anti-elitist strain. She argues that The Corrections stands above later novels which focus on similar themes, because unlike its successors it addresses these themes without being "hamstrung by the 9/11 problem" which preoccupied Bush-era novels by writers such as Don DeLillo, Jay McInerney, and Jonathan Safran Foer.
Plot: Alfred Lambert, the patriarch of a seemingly normal family living in the fictional town of St. Jude, suffers from Parkinson's disease and dementia. Enid, his long-suffering wife, suffers from Alfred's controlling, rigid behavior and her own embarrassment at what she perceives as her family's shortcomings. Their children all live in the Northeast. Gary, the eldest Lambert son, is a successful banker who refuses to believe that he has clinical depression, and, as a result, becomes increasingly paranoid, suspecting that his wife and sons are conspiring against him. Chip, the middle child, is a failed college professor whose disastrous affair with a student sends his life into decline and lands him in the employ of a Lithuanian crime boss. Denise, the youngest of the family, is successful in her career as a chef. Circumstances led her to become involved with her boss's wife.
Review: Franzen finds the minor rivalries and major calamities of stay-at-home moms and workaday dads as dramatically compelling as the tides of multinational finance. In its mostly successful attempt to encompass the personal reverberations of the contemporary economy, The Corrections spares a good word for cheerful Midwestern hand clasping, loyalty to a single company, and most of all, family.
Opening Line: “The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through.”
Closing Line: “She was seventy five and she was going to make some changes in her life.”
Quotes: "How wrong to have been so negative, how wrong to have been so gloomy, how wrong to have run away from life, how wrong to have said no, again and again, instead of yes."
Rating: Very Good

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