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The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-374-12998-3

568 Pages; $26.00

Date Reviewed: 05-09-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



General Fiction, Science Fiction

05-09-02, 01-27-03

Ten years from now, the chances are that Oprah-sticker studded copies of this novel will accumulate in used bookstores the way 'Frampton Comes Alive' filled the bins in used record stores ten years ago. If so, it can safely be said that if the pre-owned copies were read, at least the pre-owners got a bit more out of their investment than the music lovers did. By then, we'll have a better fix on whether 'The Corrections' is actually a Great American Novel. Right now, we can only evaluate what we have before us. That happens to be an occasionally laugh-out-loud funny or wish-you-were-dead depressing novel of a family re-union. Sort of.

Don't get me wrong. 'The Corrections' is a pretty compelling novel, and it is often fantastically well-written. But there's also too much of it for many readers. While I never found my patience being tested by this inter-generational family saga, I did sometimes feel as if I was listening to a guitar solo by guitarist who, though talented, went on for a bit too long. Mind this: there's no need for an uncut version of this novel.

However, there are many stretches of extremely fine writing, and considering that all Franzen is doing is telling the story of a family tying to get together for Christmas, he does get a compellingly page-turning narrative going. It's a wide screen adaptation and picture of middle class American family life at the turn of the century. It's remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the daily lives of most us. Franzen also manages to cram a lot of rather interesting and humorous information into his narrative. Here's a decent place to pick up a few buzz words on brain chemistry, in some of the funniest and best writing this book has to offer.

The reader would also be hard pressed not to learn a lot about Parkinson's disease and the restaurant business. As to the hearts and minds of the characters -- from neurotic Edith, the Gramma matriarch, to failing Alfred, her Parkinson's struck husband, to Gary, their entertainingly neurotic son, to Chip, the Sleazy Son, to Denise, mightily confused daughter, they're NOT one big happy family. But they are a recognizable family, and not ultra-rich or famous or amazingly talented or any of a number of other things that often separates characters in books from characters in our lives. They might not be people we want to get to know as well as do in the course of this novel, but they are people, and we do get to know them.

Franzen's prose is both smoothly readable and enjoyably pithy. If he were writing science fiction, readers could accuse him of an occasional info-dump. He's not writing science fiction, but that doesn't do much more than sideline the accusation. The info-dumps are there, and I must admit, they're rather entertaining. They come as something of a relief in the midst of Franzen's well-rendered sea of angst.