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Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen

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Well, I’ve finally read my first Franzen novel. I have rather mixed feelings about it. Judging by the comments on our discussion post, it seems I’m not the only one. (If you haven’t read The Corrections, beware…spoilers are fair game here!)

After reading The Corrections, I can definitely say that Franzen does do some things well:

  • First, for me, is the writing. I cannot deny that the man has a way with words. Every once in a while I thought he went a bit over the top, but mostly I slipped easily into the prose. I think my very favorite lines came on the cruise ship when Enid met Dr. Hibbard. The good doctor is described thusly:

“His smile was adorability itself. It took hostage the part of Enid that melted at the sight of seal pups and kittens, and it refused to release her until, somewhat grudgingly, she’d smiled back.” (p. 317)

  • As Steph pointed out, his dialogue is “pitch-perfect.” Honestly, I didn’t really notice the dialogue until Steph brought it up. Once she did, I realized dialogue that doesn’t stick out is perhaps the best kind…or the most realistic, anyway. I never found myself cringing or rolling my eyes at the things the characters said to one another, which I noticed once Steph brought it to my attention.
  • I commented in the discussion post that at 200 pages in I felt Franzen’s characters were stereotypes. Several people responded saying that as the book continued, the characters moved away from those preset roles. I did find that to be true. I think, instead, that the Lamberts as a family were something of a time period-specific American stereotype. Like, if you ever want to see a slice of America at the turn of the 21st century, just read The Corrections. I do think it takes skill to capture something like that. I wonder how all the allusions will fare as time passes. In 50 years, will The Corrections still ring as true?
  • Matt commented that Gary’s “entire life has been set up to be correction to his father’s.” After reading Matt’s insight, I began to notice all the ways the title wove its way into the novel, how the characters were constantly making corrections, trying to line their lives up with what they thought would make them the happiest, based on what they’d learned and what they saw around them. I do appreciate when titles tie into the novels they represent in interesting ways.

I had my share of dislikes too, though:

  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (cover)I thought the book was too long. If I hadn’t been reading the book with all of you, I’d most likely have gotten bored and given up.
  • I felt like Franzen mocked his characters, like he was constantly belittling them, laughing at their misery. How am I supposed to care about characters for whom the author seems to have only contempt? (Or am I not supposed to care about them?)
  • I didn’t like any of the characters, nor did I care what happened to them. 500+ pages is a long time to follow the ordinary lives of people you don’t care about.
  • Emily, a fellow Midwesterner, wasn’t keen on the way Franzen stereotypes Midwesterners…and I have to say I agree.

Overall, I felt like The Corrections was a book for the mind. While interesting intellectually, it left me emotionally cold. I’d long thought beautiful writing was the one thing I loved best in a book, but The Corrections has made me reconsider. I think perhaps, for me, the characters come first, with the writing running a close second. So, I suppose even if I didn’t love the book, I did learn something about myself as a reader! I can’t say I’ll be running out right away to acquire Franzen’s most recent novel, Freedom.

What were your final reactions to The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen? Check out other participants’ thoughts:

Did I miss you? Just let me know and I’ll add your link.

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

    I read this book many years ago, and remember liking it, but not loving it. There was just too much angst going on in the book for me to truly let my guard down, and I remember that I didn’t like any of the characters. I do have a copy of Freedom here, but after reading so much negative press on it, I am not sure that I want to subject myself to reading it. Franzen is a bit of an odd author. People either seem to love him or hate him.

    • Erin

      It does seem Franzen sort of polarizes readers, doesn’t it? I’m not particularly interested in picking up another of his at the moment but…we’ll see!

  • http://perduedansleslivres.blogspot.com virginie

    I’m still reading it ! I began reading the Corrections last Saturday (the book was too heavy to be taken with on my recent trip) and thought I would have read it in time, but I still have 200 pages (we have the same edition) to read. So sorry I missed the discussion post and now the final post. So far, I’m not disliking it, but I’m not reading it with passion (like I did for “Never Let Me Go”). I’ll soon begin “Bel Canto” and hope I’ll be ready for both for discussion and wrap-up post !

    • Erin

      You can always come back to posts after they’re up and share your thoughts! I’m not attached to the weekly schedule. Whatever’s good for you :-)

  • http://www.stephandtonyinvestigate.com Steph

    I’m so glad you agree about the dialogue issue! I just think that some writers create characters who are witty and clever but you think, “No one would ever speak like that in real life.” (Call it the “Dawson’s Creek” syndrome!) But Franzen’s characters, despite being smart and funny at times, always sounded to me like you would expect them to if you had the misfortune to encounter them in real life.

    • Erin

      Ha…”Dawson’s Creek” syndrome…I love it! It’s sad how many books suffer from that. It’s true, I’d say Franzen’s isn’t one of them.

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

    As I mentioned previously, I liked Freedom a lot better. I do think this book was long–and found myself racing to finish it immediately, expecting for something to happen…but nothing really did. Also, is it safe to say Franzen is a depressed person? After all, his characters from the midwest (where he was born!) are all depressed.

    • Erin

      Ha, excellent point! I didn’t realize that Franzen was from the midwest. Interesting.

  • http://booksnyc.blogspot.com Colleen

    I read this last summer and liked it – although it was a bit long, I was so impressed by the writing and mundane tragedy of the characters that I was able to overlook that.