13 June 2011

The Corrections

I can't believe it, but  I actually finished all 576 pages of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  It took me 21 days to get through it and there were many points where I felt like giving up.  And now I am just trying to make sense of what I read.

When I declared yesterday that I had  finished the book my mother asked me if I liked it and I couldn't really answer the question.  After a rather slow start it did become compelling reading.  There is no question that the writing is excellent and that Mr. Franzen is quite gifted.  There were sections that I could not put down.  One morning Zoe almost missed her bus because I was too engrossed in reading to notice the time.  From that it sounds like I really liked it, but the big problem I'm having is that I pretty much despised all of the characters and had only fleeting sympathy or empathy for them.

The novel is a story of an American family, but possibly the worst American family ever.  I mean, there's no incest or physical abuse, but the psychological dysfunction, the dishonesty, and the complete lack of warmth and compassion was just harrowing and disgusting.  We all do or have done some colossally stupid and self-destructive things in our lives, but typically (or hopefully) these moments are limited and we live through them. The characters in this book are all like the darkest story in your family history.  Am I so naive to think most people and most families are not really like this?  Yes, families struggle, but do family members really treat each other this way?  Yes, no one can hurt your feelings like your family can but do they feel the same hatred and loathing for each other?  I don't know, but I hope not.

I am left utterly confused by the point of this epic story.  In the end hasn't this family basically sacrificed one of its members and laid all the blame for everything that has gone wrong at his feet so that they can move on with their lives?  Mr. Franzen names the town they are from St. Jude and, of course, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.  It seems to me they are all lost causes wether they pick themselves up and move on or not.  Partly I was left feeling afraid that some day Zoe would drop me off in a nursing home and be glad to be rid of me.  And partly I was left feeling grateful that my family is more honest and loving than this one.

I still can't tell you if I liked the book.  As an antidote I am now reading Names My Sisters Call Me by Megan Crane which I stole from the shelves of Becky when there was nothing she could do about it.  [Cue evil laughter]

Anyone else out there read The Corrections who can help me out with some insight?

1 comment:

Emily Barton said...

Oh, I felt EXACTLY the same way. I liked the book, kept reading it, was completely immersed at times, and I think Franzen is a great writer (exept, on occasion, when he forgets to forget himself and overwrites), but I hated all the characters and couldn't help but think that it was a very sad portrait of the American family. Nonetheless, much of it has stuck with me, which to me is always the sign of a good writer and a book worth reading. I went on to read The Discomfort Zone: much shorter and the fact that he's a superb writer really shines through. I have not yet had the guts, however, to tackle Freedom.