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Reading Buddies Discussion: “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen

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Welcome to our discussion of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen! I’ve gotten as far as page 238 in my edition, the beginning of the section entitled “At Sea.” If you’re not reading along but have previously read The Corrections and want to share your two cents, that’s fine by me. Please warn of spoilers (if there are any in this book) if you include them in your comment.

The Corrections is my first experience reading Franzen, and I didn’t entirely know what to expect. I’ve read lots of passages from Freedom lately that bloggers have included in their reviews, but I think Franzen comes across differently in novel form than he does in a few short lines. There are things I’m liking about The Corrections, but also things I’m not liking.

I have to give Franzen credit for his ability to capture in words with astonishing precision the actions and thoughts of his characters, the nature of their interactions, and the state of their surroundings. I was struck by this ability from the beginning, in the “St. Jude” section in which Franzen describes Enid and Alfred’s home. The language he uses is just spot-on.

But the characters themselves feel, to me, like stereotypes. They might be subtly nuanced, but they’re subtly nuanced the way you’d expect their sort of characters to be. You might not be able to predict what, exactly, will happen, but you know how each character will most likely react because that’s what his or her character type always does in similar situations.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (cover)I also don’t like any of the characters. Not a single one. Rather than caring about one or several of them and rooting for them, when reading The Corrections I feel a bit like I’m watching an ant farm with a spectacularly articulate running commentary. On top of that, I don’t get the feeling Franzen cares at all about his characters. He’s like the kid shaking up the ant farm and poking at its inhabitants just to see what they’ll do, and then narrating the whole thing for the reader.

Finally, I’m kind of annoyed by the lack of breaks. No chapters, fine, but at least throw in a convenient stopping point every ten or twenty pages! I’ve taken to using a sticky note to mark where in the text I’ve stopped.

So yes, mixed feelings so far. I’m happy I’m finally reading something by Jonathan Franzen, as I feel it’s something I need to do. At this point, though, I’m not sure I’ll end up being a Franzen fan.

How is The Corrections going for you? If you’ve read Freedom, how does it compare?

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I think it’s very perceptive for you to make the observation that Franzen doesn’t like his characters. That was spot on. I read this many years ago, and got the same impression. I also have Freedom on my shelves, but have heard a lot of negative things about it. Sandy said that when she finished it, it made her feel so slimy that she needed a shower! I am still going to be reading it, just not sure when.

    • Erin

      I’m not sure how I feel about Freedom. There are things I like about Franzen’s writing and things I strongly dislike. I’ll definitely need a break after The Corrections, though! I’m not sure I’ll be up for a “slimy” read any time soon. (Love that description…thanks for sharing!)

  • http://www.stephandtonyinvestigate.com Steph

    I think this is a book that gains momentum… I struggled with the first little bit, but then I got into the rhythm and everything was good. Also, you’ll spend more time with each of the characters, and I think that will help too. You won’t like any of them because they are all fairly terrible, but they wind up becoming real people, I think. One thing I love about Franzen in this book is how pitch-perfect his ear for dialogue is. I really need to re-read this at some point.

    • Erin

      Yes, I do agree with you about the dialogue. There seem to be a few things Franzen does really well, but apparently I need to like at least one of the characters in a book to really get behind it! The book has picked up in terms of plot, though I still kind of feel like there could have been less of it overall. And I can see where the characters are becoming more real.

  • http://Www.reviewsbylola.wordpress.com Stephanie

    I really loathed this book. It has been a few years since I read it, so my memory isn’t completely clear, but I do recall feeling the same way you do about how the characters seem so stereotypical.

    • Erin

      I don’t think it’s going to be one of my favorites, I can say that much!

  • http://eatthebooks.com Emily @ Eat the Books!

    I would say that I really liked the beginning, however I agree with you in that I don’t like any of the characters…however I’m a little further than you (about page 400) and I’ve learned to like Denise.

    However, compared to Freedom, this book is not what I expected it to be. Freedom also was centralized in the Midwest, but he didn’t stereotype it like I feel he does in The Corrections (I’m also a Midwesterner, which is why this irks me so). Also, Freedom is centralized around one family–I’m glad that Franzen again tried this family-centered genre in Freedom, but I hope with his next book he branches out.

    I felt like, in Freedom, I could relate to many of the characters. In this book–I can’t really relate to any of them, and I find most of them annoying.

    • Erin

      Yes! As a Midwesterner too, all the negative stereotyping bugs me! If the characters in Freedom are easier to relate to, perhaps I’d like it better after all. I’m going to need a break, though, once I finish The Corrections, so if I do get to Freedom, it’ll be a ways down the road.

      I’d say Denise is the most likable character, but I’m not completely sold on her, either. Basically, I still don’t like anyone!

  • http://mattviews.wordpress.com Matt

    I am a Franzen fan but I’m not in the mood (yet) for Freedom, a tome that I shall allot uninterrupted block of time for reading.

    The Corrections has been a re-read. Although none of the characters are very likable, I think the book lends moments of truth in everyday life. The Corrections comprises multiple layers of social niches that converge to one central theme that is not ulterior in literature: the meaning of life and the search for happiness. The circuitous musing of life’s purpose is coated with domestic drama, sexual affair, globalized greed, hands-on mental health treatment, and inescapable senility. Chip struggles with the indignity of being out of a job and being penniless; but ironically the luxury at the tip of Gary’s finger does not ensue happiness. His marriage pricks his mind and his entire life has been set up to be correction to his father’s. Chip feels misunderstood but he never notices how badly he himself has misunderstood his father, whose struggle with fraternal bonding does not hinder him from loving his son.

    Peeling off the humor, openheartedness, drama and brawl, The Corrections affords sarcasm on the ineptitude to be honest with our feelings. It mocks the way our culture attaches too much importance on feelings to an incorrigible extent in which people try to correct their thoughts to improve their feelings. The novel calls for the awakening of the lost feelings in relationships that are usually rooted in family. It is poignant, brutal, and funny. It might have struck a discordant note in weathering spasm of hatred but it is, after all, a true-to-life and contiguous to certain walk of our life.

    • Erin

      You make a lot of great points here, Matt–thank you for taking the time to share them. You’ve now got me considering all the ways the title seeps into the book. You wrote, “I think the book lends moments of truth in everyday life,” and I think that’s one of the things Franzen does very well. The more I read, the more I see the family members interacting with one another and learn their backgrounds, the more realistic they seem. I think Franzen has a way with words, too. I guess for me the problem lies in my personal reading tastes. I’m finding I need to like–or at least care about–a character in a book to really enjoy my reading. Perhaps reading about painfully real life isn’t so much my thing.

  • http://www.eclectic-eccentric.com Trisha

    I still haven’t even started, and I’m not sure I’ll have time to pick it up this month. We shall see, we shall see. So many books, so little time right?

    • Erin

      No worries! This is supposed to be fun :-)

  • http://Www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    FFA zen isn’t an easy writer to read. I agree with you. I’ve read four of his books and still wouldn’t list him as a favorite author. His books are hard going in many ways. Good thing you paired The Corrections with The Knife of Never Letting Go…two difficult reads in the same month would have been brutal. I read The Corrections ages ago.

    • Erin

      Yes! At first I was worried because two of my longest Reading Buddies books were happening in the same month (had to be that way, based on everyone’s schedules), but it worked out really well. It’s taken me most of the month to get through The Corrections, whereas The Knife of Never Letting Go took me just a few days! I don’t get the feeling Franzen lends himself well to being called a “favorite author.” I’m curious, but also not, to read others of his.

  • http://booklineandsinker.com nat @book, line, and sinker

    i bought ‘the corrections’ after it was published but never managed to pick it up. i seem to recall lending it to my mom and then never seeing it again! your post is making me rethink my choice not to read it. should i give it a whirl? is it heavy reading–it’s a doorstop, to be sure. i can’t imagine lugging it around…but if you can convince me… :)

    • Erin

      Well…as you’ll see this Friday, I didn’t love The Corrections, so I won’t be trying to hard to convince you to read it :-) It has good things going for it: true-to-life dialogue and family interactions, plus great writing. But I didn’t like any of the characters, didn’t care about them. And a lot of it is painfully honest, almost in a negative way. I’m glad I read it, but it won’t be going on my all-time favorites list. If you do pick it up, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts!