Too often I expect to like a certain book and then I’m disappointed. Occasionally the opposite situation happens to me; such is the case with Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I tend to read so much genre fiction and non-fiction that I occasionally need to read a mainstream novel to remain balanced, so I picked up the audiobook version of The Corrections and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. I found it compelling — much easier to listen to than I had expected. Of course I don’t know what it would be like if I had read it instead. Some books are much more effective in one medium rather than the other, and it could go either way.
Ordinarily I’m not enthusiastic about quoting other reviewers, but from time to time I find a review that expresses my opinions better than I could do so myself. I was astonished to find that Donald Mitchell of all people had written such a review. Here is an excerpt:
Here’s who will hate it: Anyone who dislikes reading about unending emotional turmoil, depression, dementia, people messing up their lives, ugly family scenes, emotionally cold families, and the views of the well-educated, self-satisfied towards everyone else. Further groups who will be offended will include those who dislike extreme writing styles, slowly developing stories, and a strong sense of irony. Also, anyone from Lithuania or of Lithuanian ancestry will probably feel offended.
Here’s who will love it: Anyone who liked John Cheever’s Wapshot Chronicle and Wapshot Scandal, but would also like to see more of the interaction among the family members; those who enjoy writing that takes characters to the edge and tests them thoroughly with temptation and challenge in order to let their actions describe their personalities; those who enjoy satirical treatment of foibles of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom; and those who would like to read about a family with more problems than their own has. The writing itself will interest people who like to see new forms of narration, and appreciate an ability to switch smoothly between stream of consciousness and straight narration.
The theme of corrections (whether in financial markets, in dealing with misbehavior, adjusting to new circumstances, or choosing the right path) is a good one for a novel about families, and I thought the theme was most imaginative and extremely well developed. If you are like me, be aware that the theme’s full relevance will not start to hit you until the last 100 pages or so.
The book’s focus, to me, was on the limits of our self-perceptions. We have a self-image and a way of internalizing the world. Often, the self-image and way of internalizing the world poorly capture what is really going on. As a result, we can misunderstand our circumstances, what others think of us, what is being communicated to us, and even ourselves. Getting past any self-delusion is important to freely finding and taking the right choices for ourselves. As you laugh while you read this book, I suggest that you laugh a little at yourself . . . and learn in the process.