Review: The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

First, I don’t care about Jonathan Franzen.  Is he an egoist?  An asshole?  Does he have regrets, or view the world through the eyes of a depressed cynic?  What I do know is that Jonathan Franzen is a talented writer who crafts sentences with care.  He draws out complex characters and is able to make readers feel for them.  The characters may not be likable always; but, at least they are interesting.

I’ve read through some reviews where people feel Franzen has projected himself into the novel through his characters.  Unless you personally know the writer, I don’t think you can easily make that judgement.  I may not like a star athlete, but I can appreciate the level at which they compete.  The same is true with writers.  There may be aspects about a writer that a reader doesn’t like; but, the reader needs to evaluate the writing and not the person who wrote it.

The Corrections is a heartfelt novel about family.  What makes up a family?  How well do we know the members of our family?  What secrets does a family keep?  We see a limited view of Alfred, Enid, Gary, Chip and Denise through the eyes of the others.  It’s easy to take at face value how the characters perceive Gary, until the book shifts to Gary’s perspective and the field of vision expands.  Then, we understand Gary, know what drives him, and how, let’s say, Alfred and Enid’s view of Gary may be skewed.

Are there moments that could have been edited or may seem like a stretch?  Sure.  At points, moments of flitting dialogue press down on the reader.  Does Franzen need to demonstrate his ability at describing annoying conversations for five pages?  Could one page have sufficed?  Does Chip need such an extreme experience in order to grow up?  Probably not.  But, was it funny?  Did it interfere in the aims of the novel?  Does Franzen need to take such an obvious jab at christianity as a drug?  Could he have written that more subtly?  Were emails between characters just a fast way to convey information to the reader?  At the time, because the sentences and descriptions were so good, these areas didn’t bother me.  The book was so enjoyable, that I read and read.  Looking back, there are moments that could have been better, but that’s a pretty human fault, a fault we have with most things in life.

Overall, The Corrections is the best book I’ve read in 2011.  It’s full of humanity.  It captures the way in which we fail one another and ourselves.  It demonstrates how love transcends those failings.  No matter how much we’ve been let down or let others down, there are still moments of beauty, moments of love.  However you may feel about the man, Jonathan Franzen, don’t let it stop you from reading a terrific novel.

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