The Corrections

by Jonathan Franzen

Hardcover, 2001

Call number




Farrar Straus & Giroux (2001), Edition: 1st, 576 pages


"After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and heart down the drain of an affair with a married man - or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

Franzen’s brilliant achievement is that he creates a set of stereotypical characters and then opens the door and allows us see, in suspenseful, humorous, mesmerizing detail, their defining moments. What was once a silhouette becomes three-dimensional. The complexity becomes a dim mirror of our own complex interiority—writ large, the way we like it writ, because then we can’t help but see ourselves in it.
7 more
Hvis du skal ta med deg en eneste roman på sommerferie, bør det bli Jonathan Franzens "Korrigeringer". Du kan ikke gjøre noe bedre kjøp akkurat nå. Men romanen gjør deg ikke dermed til en lykkelig konsument, mener Tom Egil Hverven.
De Morgen
'Met voorsprong het beste boek dat ik in jaren gelezen heb. Het enige slechte is dat het jammer genoeg na 502 pagina's ophoudt.'
NRC Handelsblad
'De correcties is een zeldzaamheid: een boek dat hoog inzet, stilistisch verbluft en niet kan worden weggelegd tot het is uitgelezen.'
Fremragende amerikansk roman minder os om hvor nøjsomme vi i grunden er herhjemme. Litterært set.
Vel nok den bedste amerikanske roman siden Underverden.
En fremragende roman har ramt Danmark.
Denne store og sprogligt uhyre veloplagte amerikanske samtidsroman har det hele og lidt til.

Library's review

I've read Franzen's work out of order, getting to his breakout novel (third book, I believe) last, after reading Freedom and Purity. The Corrections was even more complex in terms of structure than the other two. Moving back and forth in time, in small increments, while inexorably marching toward the final chapter, like his other books it is full of characters that are really hard to like (but grow on you as you stick it out through their travails and the plot twists). The other thing I noticed more than in the other books is the amazing lyrical detail that Franzen achieves--you can almost miss it if you're reading too fast--in small scenes and descriptions. The manic power of family Christmas, the promise of a new drug that will rewire (and "Correct") all neurological flaws, market manipulation by autistic entrepreneurs, the tragedy of dementia (and the question of death with dignity): there is a lot in this novel to depress the hell out of you, but Franzen's wordcraft makes it worth your while. (Brian)… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I suppose it's a reflection of my bourgeois middlebrow tastes that I didn't just hate this book but thought it badly written--Pulitzer Prize Finalist or not. It's one of those novels with an omniscient narrative with lots of Modernist Stylistic Touches that Examines The Human Condition(tm)--in other words a pretentious, depressing work with unlikeable characters and turgid prose. The kind of book where paragraphs can go on for more than a page and single sentences, kept aloft with slashes, parenthesis, colons and semi-colons almost as long. (See, page 11, 17.) One with irritating affectations like referring to a fictitious school as "D-- College." (God, just make up a name already.)

Every once in a while I did think there were flashes of brilliance (which is why it gets more than half a star). Such as how in Part One, Enid and Alfred, an elderly Midwestern couple, are characterized through their possessions. Or in Part Two how their son Chip translates the subtext of his mother's quizzing of his girlfriend.

However, not even the satiric tones could make Chip's self-absorbed academic mental masturbation bearable--maybe Franzen did that too well--I had flashbacks to the worst of my politically correct college professors. Franzen's depiction of Yuppiehood in New York City wasn't any more appealing. (And I say that as a proud native New Yorker who usually loves to see my city depicted.) I lasted till the end of the second part at page 134 because I wanted to give such a raved-about book a fair shot. By then I knew there was no way I was going to last all the way to the end at page 566 without taking it out on some innocent bystander.
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LibraryThing member MeganGrace
I should never have read this book in the days before Thanksgiving. I can't decide whether I should fake the flu and hide under my covers or go to dinner to give thanks that my family isn't really that bad.

This book is fascinating. It's much more character driven than plot driven, but there's still plenty going on. Franzen divides his novel about a family of five, the Lamberts, into long sections about each family member. I was disappointed to see each part end, but quickly drawn into each new section. I didn't like all of the characters, but I felt like I genuinely understood and even related to them all. They're brilliantly presented.

Franzen's writing is fantastic too. He has some fantastic "turns of phrase" but it never feels gimmicky or heavy handed. He seamlessly moves between present time and some prior experience for the character on whom he's focusing. In different sections, Franzen makes the reader feel the chaos of a house with three boys, the quiet desperation of of being entangled in an adulterous affair, the terror of descending into mental illness, and the suffocating nature of returning to your childhood home as an adult.

I need some time to recover before I read it again, but I definitely will. This one is a keeper.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
I read "Why Bother?" and "Mr. Difficult," Jonathan Franzen's thoughtful, heartfelt essays on the current state of literature, before I finally picked this one up, and while I don't think "The Corrections" is a bad book, I'm not sure that it lives up to Franzen's own exacting standards. In "Why Bother?", which has become better known as "The Harper's Essay," Franzen criticizes modern writers who alienate readers by producing overly theoretical, didactic, complex books. He seems to call for a literature that responds to our time but is more focused on character, story, and good writing, the qualities that draw readers in and make books really memorable.

It's a good idea and a very good essay, but I can't help but think that Franzen fails to take a lot of his own advice. He's a good writer and a born storyteller, but he can't seem to resist the temptation to drape his ideas on subject matter that seems, ten years after the book's publication, a bit obvious. The older Lamberts are solid, old-fashioned red state types, but their kids moved east and became blue state caricatures. One of them lives comfortably in the suburbs, one has affairs that she can't tell her mother about, and one of them is even a lonely, befuddled college professor at a fancy university. Since I'm a blue state type (Massachusetts, two degrees, registered democrat, NPR listener), I should identify with these people, but, in the book's least impressive moments, they still come off as strawmen. The professor's writing a screenplay, of course, and gets mixed up with some unscrupulous global capitalists, the daughter gets involved with a couple who are rolling in oceans of dumb New Economy money, and you can just imagine the rest. "The Corrections" sometimes threatens to become a literature version of "Law and Order: SVU," where all the stories are pulled from the headlines or, heaven forfend, bullshit Newsweek trend pieces.

Worse, Franzen sometimes succumbs to a tendency to overwrite. While it's difficult to imbue ordinary scenes with real meaning, he sometimes chooses to force the issue by piling on the verbiage. At various points throughout the book he risks losing both his readers and the objects he's trying to describe in thick brambles of very fancy, but ultimately unnecessary, description and well-wrought, but ultimately oppressive, meditation on the book's already well-articulated themes. Since the book's themes are already too close to the surface, Franzen's decision to bring his subtext forward robs the novel of some much-needed breathing space. This guy's got to start reading his own press releases.

All this would make "The Corrections" easy to dismiss if it wasn't for the fact that large sections of this novel are really very good. Franzen's great with the small stuff, like the telling detail or the hard-to-spot class difference, and he's able to skilfully integrate these little bits into long, satisfying Rothian rips of pure, pleasurable storytelling. His description of the rise and fall of Denise Lambert's big-time culinary career an is riveting stuff, and his descriptions of her doomed romantic entanglements just crackle with straight-out sensual energy. In a word, they're hot. This section of the book, contained in a chapter called "The Generator," flows easily and organically, but it's too bad that it's contained within a larger work that often seems overly labored and too carefully arranged. "The Corrections" is a good novell; it's just not the novel that Jonathan Franzen told me he wanted to write. Maybe he'll do that his next time out.
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LibraryThing member dczapka
The Corrections is easily one of the most frustrating novels I have ever read, but not for the reasons one might expect. Jonathan Franzen has crafted a marvelous family epic, but one that is horrifically depressing and tragic, a train wreck-like read that you want to turn away from but are too engrossed to ignore.

The story revolves around the assorted histories of the five members of the Lambert family. Alfred, the Parkinson's-riddled patriarch, and Enid, his long-suffering wife, live in the midwest while their three grown children make lives for themselves in the Northeast. Gary, a Philadelphia banker, refuses to admit to the depression from which he clearly suffers; Chip has lost his cushy academic job and is struggling to make ends meet as a failing screenwriter; and Denise is a chef whose voracious sexual appetite threatens her livelihood.

During the course of the novel, all five characters make disastrous choices based on what they think is the change, or correction, they feel their lives need. Though the plots are often dangerously close to spiraling out of control amidst all this impending doom -- Chip's story, especially, feels almost too ridiculous to be believable -- Franzen handles them all carefully and draws the reader by developing his characters extremely deeply. It is the strong characterization of the five Lamberts that lets him get away with the extremely lengthy digressions and backstories he employs en route to his ultimate resolution.

The flip side, as I've already mentioned, is that as enthralling as the novel is, it becomes increasingly morose by increasingly severe turns. Gary's breakdown, for instance, is rather easily portended though still touching, but Denise's downfall is so unexpectedly rapid and complete that it's astonishing. In a genius move, though, Franzen distracts our attention away from Alfred's deterioration just enough to make his own fall just as tragic as all the others -- the final scene of the penultimate chapter, as Chip and Alfred share perhaps their first genuine father-son moment, is written with such urgency and grace that even the most hardened of hearts will wilt at what transpires.

Filled with asides and commentaries on various contemporary topics, The Corrections strives to be a diary of the modern American family, and it succeeds with flying colors. The novel is a strong, assured portrait, but one that tells a dark and at times sinister tale that will affect you deeply. Approach with both curiosity and caution, but know that both will be handsomely rewarded.
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LibraryThing member TheTwoDs
Take one hypercontrolling mother, a depressed, Parkinson-stricken father, and three adult children who are, in turn, depressed and materialistic, juvenile to a fault, and unsure of their place in the world. Add a satirical wit that aims for, and often hits, the jugular. Throw in enough observations on what "family" means at the end of the 20th century in America and you get this brilliantly realized, devastatingly funny, yet tender at times, account of the Lambert family of the fictional Upper Midwestern city of St. Jude. Never before has Tolstoy's famous line from Anna Karenina, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," so riotously applied. It's a coming-of-middle-and-old-age story.

Mom and Dad are pushing 80 years old; Dad is retired, depressed and battling his illness, Mom is willfully naive about the ways of her adult children. Oldest son Gary is married to a manipulative equally controlling woman and they have three manipulative kids, living in a wealthier suburb of Philadelphia. Younger son Chip was a college professor until being fired for inappropriate sexual contact with a student; now he does odd proofreading jobs, lives in New York City and dates a woman married to a Lithuanian government official-cum-gangster. Youngest child, daughter Denise, is a divorced chef garnering rave reviews for the new Philadelphia restaurant she was hired to run. Mom wants one last old fashioned family Christmas back at the family home in St. Jude, a fictional version of St. Paul.

The novel weaves back and forth in time telling the Lambert family's story, why they are the way they are and how they got here. Several scenes are painfully funny, others are incredibly sad and in this way, the book reminds me very much of some of John Irving's family tales. The characters are unforgettable, though they are all on the meaner side of personality charts, even though they don't realize it. Several of Jonathan Franzen's observations were so spot on that they replicated exact statements my own parents made during my childhood.

I highly recommend this for those adults coming to realize how similar they are to their parents and anyone seeking a hysterical portrait of an American family.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
I tried to like this book; however, I found the plot to be bleak and the very opposite of noteworthy. There is not one likeable character doing one kind, charitable or generous act during the entire plodding book. I am not looking for an uplifting book with a "message" or a puerile happy ending, but I would like to think that there is more to life and living tthan is represented in this book. I like books that make me think while I am reading them and, if I am truly fortunate, when I have finished reading them. Jonathan Franzen has created a goup of greedy, self-serving characters who never deviate from our initial introduction to them. The author has talent - the characters are well defined and the plot makes sense within the confines of the structure created by Franzen. The world is surely peopled by persons who belie his definition of living within a family. This book saddened my heart.… (more)
LibraryThing member NancyJak
I dragged myself through this book - it just went on and on and on - AND ON. Not enjoyable at all.
LibraryThing member stitchindye
I hated every single character in this book. But when I finished reading it, I found that I missed them all. Reading this book was definitely experiential. I didn't just read it, I lived through it.
LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 2001. I wanted to read this book ever since reading the review of it in the New York Times Review of Books. Aside from finding fault with the first few pages of the book, the reviewer couldn't lavish enough praise on it. Well, that was just the start of the publicity for this book. Oprah selected it for her book club --- and Jonathan Franzen got even more publicity when he said he didn't want to be a part of Oprah's book club! He views himself as a ``high art'' author. And then it wins the National Book Award for fiction. Well, I read the book on the Thanksgiving trip to St. Louis, and I wasn't disappointed. The book holds up to its publicity. Franzen has a wicked sense of humor, and the book reads as a delicious black comedy at parts. His writing style is a joy to read. And his characterization and depiction of petty family cruelty is dead-on. This is one of the best works of modern fiction I have read in a while.… (more)
LibraryThing member ursula
Somewhere along the way, this book took a wrong turn for me. It starts off well, as we get to know midwestern couple Enid and Alfred and their three grown children, Gary, Chip and Denise. It went a little wrong for me when we find out that Chip is a professor who has been fired for sleeping with a student. If I were to take literature at face value, I would believe there are no professors who don't sleep with their students. Meanwhile, Gary is in a Mexican standoff of a marriage. Denise is seemingly successful as a chef, but trouble lurks there as well. Enid is portrayed as a reed that has always bent to Alfred's will. The problem is that Alfred is now suffering from Parkinson's and perhaps dementia, and his will is getting erratic.

The wrong turns really started coming when we spend some time inside Alfred's head, though. I guess I understand the desire to do a vivid immersion there, as his thoughts are ravaged by disease, but I just wanted out. And aside from short switchbacks, the book just continued down the wrong road for me from there. Gary's marriage was indescribably grueling to read about, Denise was so schizophrenic in her dealings with other people that it was hard to care, and Enid was completely flat. Chip at least got slightly more interesting after he went to Lithuania to engage in some shady business dealings. I enjoyed some of the writing quite a bit, so I tried to like the book, but I just couldn't.

Recommended for: professors who sleep with their students, people who aren't squeamish about bodily functions, people who hate their boring, midwestern parents, anyone who believes hell is other people.

Quote: "He felt as if he lacked the ability to lose all volition and connection with reality the way depressed people did in books and movies. It seemed to him, as he silenced the TV and hurried into his kitchen, that he was failing even at the miserable task of falling properly apart."
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
This novel was surrounded by media hype, so I was curious to learn what all the commotion was about. Franzen writes using an interesting and unique style, combining a dark and depressing story with plenty of laugh-out-loud humor. He portrays each of his subjects with a refreshing honesty that is rare among other authors. The narrative follows the Lamberts, a disfunctional middle-class family. Alfred suffers from Parkinson's disease, and his wife, Enid, keeps herself busy caring for him, discovering a lovely illegal drug along the way. Gary, is the oldest son, and, on the surface, he is the successful one, but his life begins to unravel before our eyes. Chip, the middle child, is an unemployed English professor who hopes to get his awful movie script picked up by a producer. Denise, the youngest, is a quasi-lesbian and renowned chef. There are multiple plots; the book is organized into novella-like sections, with each devoted to the life of a different Lambert, told from their perspective. The central story that intertwines all of the others surrounds Enid's struggle to gather her family together for a last Christmas, before Alfred's decline becomes too great. The character development is fantastic, and each family member has his own quirks, many of which I can imagine my own famiy members having, but I couldn't stand any of them. I thought the book dragged on too long, and I found the lack of chapters to be annoying, but overall, it was worth my time.… (more)
LibraryThing member vegetrendian
There was a hell of a lot of buzz around this novel for a number of reasons. Firstly there was the infamous “Harper’s Essay”, as it came to be called, (actually called “Perchance to Dream” re-titled and reworked as “Why Bother” in his collection of essays “How to be Alone”) where some say that he claimed to be writing the book that would save the American novel. Of course this is not exactly what he said, but that doesn’t actually matter where hype is concerned. There were countless articles about this book well before it was published, most of them acclaiming the book for its genius, and for doing exactly what he may or may not have promised, whether it was something that needed doing or not (saving of the American novel that is). I remember reading a number of portraits of him where he recounted how he would blindfold himself, put in ear plugs, and sit in front of his computer, and pound out thousands of words today. He reputedly threw out tens of thousands of pages. Then of course came the Oprah scandal. He was asked to be on her book club and (there is some great confusion over the finer points) allegedly turned it down. My understanding is that he asked not to appear on her show and did not want to have dinner with her. Of course this all came off appearing as what it likely truly was: literary snobbery. The people who read Jonathan Franzen novels do not read Oprah book club picks (except Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, “East of Eden”, and “One Hundred Years of Solitude”) in fact they refuse to buy her books. Do you remember the rush to buy The Corrections after it was announced that she had picked it but before the “Oprah Edition” with the embossed seal was published? Absolutely hilarious. Lots of controversy means lots of press. Franzen was everywhere with this book despite the fact that neither of his previous novels did particularly well.
But all the hype aside, this book is excellent. It is moving, it is real, and it is extraordinarily well written. It follows the disintegration of a typical mid-Western American family as they end up spread out through the US and the world. The characters are all flawed, yet also realistic and sympathetic; they are perfect in their humanity. We hate them all and love them all, we feel sorry for them, and angry at them, we understand their choices, or we understand their stupidity. This is an unflinching, unsentimental, yet real and loving portrait of modern suburban America. Franzen manages to decry many aspects of society without (as some critics charge he does) belittling or attacking it. He understands the situation in which society has found itself and he sees that there are problems, but he grasps that these are real people making honest mistakes. The right wing likes to attack this type of novel (there is a highly amusing call for a boycott of the movie version of the book on the imdb site) for their supposed slander of the great state of America, and dismiss the authors as out of touch effete liberal New Yorkers. But as effete a New Yorker as Franzen may or may not be, he is not out of touch. This is not, in my view, a condemnation of the culture, but merely a wonderfully rendered portrait of it. Perhaps those who view it as an attack are those who really hate America because they hate what they see in these books, but what they see is sometimes a reflection of the truth. Often fiction tells the truth better than anything. This book is incisive, witty, poignant, touching, and downright wonderful. This is an excellent portrait of a particular time and a particular family. This is the height of modern American fiction. I’m not sure if he said it, or if it needed to be saved, but perhaps Jonathan Franzen has indeed saved the American novel.
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LibraryThing member miriamparker
Stopped reading while they were on the boat. TOO MUCH TIME ON THE BOAT, Mr. Franzen!
LibraryThing member dysmonia
Brilliantly written, but I didn't really enjoy reading it.

LibraryThing member samsheep
Blimey. I had a mixed relationship with this one. I found it frustrating at times - a bit like a conversation where you want to hear the point but someone keeps rambling off topic. I also found it quite hard-going to read, and yet by about half way through it was approaching un-put-downable. I didn't exactly like any of the characters but I loved the way they gradually earnt more and more sympathy (mostly) as the book went on. I was utterly gripped by the end and found it quite devastating. Exhausting!… (more)
LibraryThing member fastreader
Second read gave me a fuller sense of what F. was up to and why Oprah picking him might have been so very annoying. Invariably, the audience would have concentrated on the story of the Midwestern sister and brothers and their parents, while he wanted us steered towards the more DeLillo elements: mind controlling drugs, IPO's, Internet and e-Bay purchased former Eastern Bloc countries. A smart, funny book but maybe not as smart as Frazen thought it was....… (more)
LibraryThing member mbergman
Franzen is another of those clever young writers. Here an aging couple wants to get their 3 adult children together for "one last Christmas." That's really the extent of the plot, except that we get filled in on the rambling back story of each character's life story. It's always engaging & perceptive, but the author has little empathy for his characters; he sneers at all of them. That's a fatal flaw for my reading experience.… (more)
LibraryThing member Menagerie
Much has been said and written about this book, so I will keep my review short. People either love this book or hate it. I am definitely in the latter group. There is some absolutely beautiful writing in this book, phrases where I completely 'got' what Franzen was describing. More than once, I felt that rare click when something was written so perfectly that it seemed to be a cosmic truth.

That being said, the problem with this book is that there is not a single likable character. Not one. If I were to look at this as simply a writing exercise with a focus on structure, plotlines, and pacing, then this would be a different review. But I read a book for the story, not for technical expertise. It is hard to spend so much time and effort on a book when there is no one in its pages that you can root for or care about. All of these characters are miserable and as far as I can see, they ought to be. I kept reading, hoping that just one person would have one redeemable characteristic, but it never materialized.
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LibraryThing member sometimeunderwater
I love a novel that I can't decide if I love or hate. They usually end up amongst my favourites. With Franzen, I knew he had a reputation, both as a pretentious ass, and potentially one of the few modern authors who'll eventually enter the canon. Having now read The Corrections, I think both assessments are probably correct.

Franzen's minute pitch-perfect vision of daily American life feels like the work of a master noticer (I assume, not being American). His characters feel both painfully real, and like caricatures at the same time. The plot likewise has all the elements of a farce, whilst never feeling too far from a social realist presentation of middle-class America

Points added for the cheap but gratifying attack on mindlessly anti-corporate sentiment in academia. Points subtracted for the lazy characterisation of Lithuania, forgetting that real people live there (and read books) and that it isn't some hilarious dumping ground for post-Cold War stereotypes.
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LibraryThing member ElectricRay
Big it up to Jonathan Franzen for snubbing Oprah's book club: it demonstrates the instinct of a true marketer, seldom seen in bookish circles - Salman Rushdie (he of the Satanic Verses) is the only serious competition in those stakes, and for my money Franzen's the smarter operator: influential though she may be, Oprah Winfrey wosn't irrevocably sentence you to death for cutting her up just so you can make a few headlines.

Such idle controversy is only reason I came to be reading either book, actually: to see what all the hoo-haa was about. But where The Satanic Verses levelly and thoroughly stunk for a whole raft of reasons quite unrelated to Ayatollah Khomenei's Fatwa, Franzen's effort is one of the most remerkable reads I've ever had.

For one thing, in the the well established post-modern fashion, it's witty, solemn, tragic, ironic, brutal and hysterical, and in each case extremely so, and often the mood will switch quite jarringly. Franzen's depiction of ailing, failing patriarch Al Lambert is geniunely funny (he comes off more than a little like George Costanza's father), thoroughly tragic and, because of both aspects, shudderingly recognisable. Franzen's characterisation works so well because he recongises that the same person - the same characteristics, even, can be funny and tragic at the same time, depending on your perspective. And Franzen deliberately swtiches perspective throughout the book, to make this very point.

The book is also gripping: I'm no great fan of "longer fiction" -having a typical male attention span, I tend to lose interest in a novel after about 400 pages unless it has pictures, but experienced no such difficulties here. Indeed, I usually read at night to help me get to sleep, but The Corrections was keeping me so awake that I had to ditch it for something a little more somniferous.

It's not comfortable reading; because the characterisation is so plausible you find yourself applying the scenarios to your own life, which is (well, in my case) sobering.

Nitpicks - while the characterisation was spot on, some of the plot lines were a little contrived; I didn't buy Chip's Lithuanian foray, and I couldn't help thinking Franzen let his male fantasist off the leash a little in devising some of the other subplots.

But this is piffling stuff: overall, this is a five-starrer, no question about it.
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LibraryThing member scodenton
Normally when I start writing a review, I at least know if I enjoyed the book. The Corrections has me bemused however, as I think I enjoyed it, whilst taking a dislike to how Jonathan Franzen mischievously described the families emerging problems in a way that constantly makes you think: "Is this happening in my family?" "I think I'm ok, but now I've read this, I might need to get my head examined, just in case...". And so on.

Bear with the slow start, would be my advice, as I found it worth the long read.
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LibraryThing member DougJ110
Jonathan Franzen is a wonderful observer of dysfunctional family dynamics. His imaginative dialog and vivid scene descriptions are riveting. Franzen's erudite and ingenious account of Chip's, (the middle son), time in Lithuania was some of the most fascinating fiction I've ever read.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
The Corrections tackles the global scope of economic crisis while microscopically analyzing the dynamics of a family in turmoil. This is Franzen's criticism of society on multiple levels.The time line bounces around a family history to give the reader a complete profile of each family member; a sort of explanation for why they are the way they are, if you will. Mom Enid is a submissive housewife who feels trapped by her tyrannical husband, Alfred. And she is. Dad Alfred is a retired railroad engineer who suffers from the early stages of dementia and Parkinson's disease. Eldest son Gary is an alcoholic banker who thinks his life is being controlled by his wife and three sons and becomes increasingly paranoid as a result. Middle child Chip is a professor who lost his tenure-tract position when he indulged in an affair with a student. Finally, youngest child Denise is an accomplished chef who loses her job when she indulged in an affair with her boss and his wife. If the characters aren't straying they're thinking about it. The entire novel centers around the fact Enid wants her entire family home for Christmas. The needling, begging, whining and general malaise of the every character will strike a chord with all readers.… (more)
LibraryThing member lisapeet
Well, that was certainly an experience. There were things about it that just made me gnash my teeth, mostly related to Franzen's EXTREME cleverness, like a 12-year-old whose parents told him he tested into the Talented and Gifted class and he knows just how to play everyone in reach. And the names -- my god, he must have spent SO much time coming up with those perfect, perfect names. It was annoying and impressive in equal amounts.

What what made the book work for me above and beyond being a very clever piece of sprawling writing was how Franzen gives you a way into each character, that they're just kaleidoscopic enough to see a bit of your own reflection in them. There was real intelligence about human nature behind it -- all those people beating their heads against reality. I can't remember when I last read a more anxiety-producing book, but I enjoyed it.
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LibraryThing member browner56
In The Corrections, we meet the Lamberts, quite possibly the most dysfunctional nuclear family ever portrayed in modern literature. Told in flashbacks and present-day episodes, the story centers on the highly repressed relationships that the parents (Alfred and Enid) have with one another as well as with each of their three grown children (Gary, Chip, and Denise). The kids, who have abandoned their Midwestern upbringing for varying degrees of professional success on the East coast, are simply a mess at handing virtually any of their personal relationships, most notably those with their rapidly aging (and declining) parents. Nevertheless, it is Enid’s wish to have the family reassemble at home in St. Jude, Kansas for one last Christmas together, which is not something that anyone but her really wants. Can anything positive—in fact, anything other than the same hurt feelings, misunderstandings, recriminations, and petty jealousies that have marked the last four decades of the Lamberts’ shared existence—possibly come from this scheme?

It has been quite a while since I have felt as conflicted in my opinion about a novel as I am with this one. Indeed, after absorbing just about 100 pages of this sprawling work, the term cognitive dissonance started reverberating in my head and that thought never really disappeared as I read on through to the book’s conclusion. To be sure, I found both Franzen’s intricate plotting of the multi-layered tale and his writing style to be superbly crafted. The author clearly has a great understanding of the myriad ways in which people can mess up in making connections with each other and he was able to convey his thoughts in a compelling way and, at times, with a devastating sense of humor. Further, I also knew before I began reading the novel that it had won the National Book Award, among many other honors, and thus had been “pre-blessed” by far more insightful critics than me.

So why then didn’t I enjoy The Corrections more than I actually did? The answer, I think, ends up being pretty simple: I just wasn’t all that moved by most aspects of the story. In fact, when not on the verge of being repelled by some of the Lambert clan’s actions, I found it hard to muster much empathy for any of the main characters. I suspect that Franzen drew each of his protagonists in a way that supported his larger purpose of producing an all-encompassing social critique of American life at the end of the last century. However, without the ability for the reader—this reader, anyway—to link personally with any of the family members, that literary device quickly became a very blunt tool. Additionally, absent that empathetic buy-in, it was difficult for me accept the plausibility of some important plot points (e.g., the entire way that Alfred and Enid dealt with health issues, Gary’s emotional blackmail at the hands of his own family, Denise’s dalliances with her employers, Chip’s Lithuanian business dealings). Consequently, while this book ultimately does reward the effort it takes to consume it, it is not one that I can recommend without some reservations.
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0374129983 / 9780374129989
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