Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections

Oh Lord, it took me forever to finish this. This has got to be the thickest book I've read since the final Harry Potter - of course, they couldn't be more different. Like, LOLZ. The Corrections has substance, character depth and emotion to a much greater degree than Harry Potter can ever really display. My husband got me this for my birthday (11/10, so you can imagine... I finished it about ten days ago maybe. This is slooooow reading for me. Then again I am no longer permitted to read while nursing, so there is less time.)

Jonathan Franzen apparently (I'd never heard of him before to be honest, woe is the uncultural bog in which I dwell) writes for The New Yorker, and it shows. I once stumbled upon a copy of The New Yorker at a time when I was clearly much too young to appreciate it, but I retain a memory of an awfully wordy magazine that I wished I was clever enough to understand. Then there was a phase when I still didn't read it, and disguised my lack of intellectualism by thinking "oh it's probably just pretentious tripe anyway". Now I'm at a phase where I'd definitely give it a shot if I saw it lying around, but I'm not going to look for it. But anyway, my point is that it's rather wordy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing at all, but I suspect I might be a "less is more" type of person. Not least because I'm too quick and sloppy a reader - if there's an awful lot of description my eyes tend to wander and I miss things. Anyway, so this shows in Franzen's writing - it's wordy. But it's very good, and if you go to that website I've linked to there and read his biography you'll see that he's all kinds of smart, therefore: good wordiness.

Unfortunately the back blurb of The Corrections led me to picture a slightly different novel. According to the blurb, it's mostly about - hang on, let me nick this bit from that website up there:
After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man -- or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.

I think it's a bit simple, which on the other hand does testify to the complexity and richness of the book. I got the impression of the story leading up to that Christmas, with everybody despite all odds gathering at casa Lambert at Yule. But it's not really like that, Christmas isn't really the climax at all. It ends up being sort of an anti-climax in the place of a climax, and then winds down gently to a surprisingly happy end, albeit with a slightly bitter flavour since we're privy to Alfred's dementia-induced fears, rages and confused thoughts. Everybody else may be all right, but Alfred is in hell. Incidentally, that's one of the things I like best, Franzen's description of Alfred, a man who has failed at showing his children that he loves them, who is unable to show love, and who is now descending into bewilderment.

Highly readable, at times very funny. Recommended.

1 comment:

Charley said...

You started your review of The Corrections with Oh Lord, I started mine with Man, oh, man. It took me a long time to get through this one, too, and like you, I had a different idea of the content. I was expecting light, humorous story of family togetherness. That, it certainly is not. But I enjoyed it anyway.