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:
- 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.