Review – The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
I recently read Nathan Hill’s The Nix and many reviews online state that the novel bears resemblance to Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 work The Corrections, and though I have never read anything by Franzen, I am familiar with his oftentimes controversial media personality, as he has been publicly criticized in the past for his reactionary opinions about the role of social media and technology in the Information Age. After stumbling across this book on discount in Taiwan’s ginormous Eslite bookstore – which is in close proximity to the towering Taipei 101 – I can’t help but think that between these two books, Franzen’s is the superior one, despite being dated by fourteen years.
A comparison of the novels is easy to make, both novels are family sagas, jumping through time and between generations to give the reader more substantial characterizations. The Corrections is focused on the Lambert family, patriarch Albert and his wife Enid, and their three troubled and very different children: Chip, Denise, and Gary. Chip is a fly-by-his-pants failed English professor with budgeting problems, and who acts out and lives a fast lifestyle in order to show resistance to the values of his parents. Gary, a banker, and the oldest in the family, states that his life looks most like the lives of his parents, as he has a wife and three sons, yet he still has difficulty finding happiness in these relationships, which he tries to mediate by cooking “mixed grills” every night. Denise is the youngest in the family, a successful chef who out of the three seems most to have her life in order, however we see that her relationships are telling of her own definite uncertainties and confusions. Albert is slowly losing his mind to Parkinson’s disease, and we see the whole family come together during Christmas to face this realization.
The book had many strong points, the first being the layering. Franzen clearly goes for quality in his prose, and while the book isn’t particularly heavy, in comparison to The Nix the book seems to hit its marks better in obedience to its themes. Franzen just seems to be in better control. The book is also subtly humorous, in a very different way from Hill’s novel, as it is a kind of humor that is cynical, original, and almost caustic. Though other opinions of the book say that Franzen is going for realism and also sincerity — these are opinions of which I can definitely understand — at the same time I don’t think the book betrays an underlying tone of paranoia. We see that appearances are deceiving, that things may not be as gravy as they seem. The last reason why I thought the book was so good is because of how relatable it is, Franzen describes a typical middle-class WASP family in such a way that I could see myself (and my family members) in some of the characters. I highly recommend this book.
Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001. Print.