by Jonathan Franzen
Category: Fiction / General
568 pages; ISBN: 0374100128
Rating: 10/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Carolyn Howard-Johnson
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author of “This is the Place.”
In The Corrections, Franzen gets the last laugh. You’re not going to know what I mean by that until you’ve read the last paragraph of this review, because, you see, I want the fun of having the last laugh, too.
This book is significant. Yet it seems designed. It wants to impress those who like poetry with its narrative. It seems calculated to appeal to those who like philosophy with its references to Schopenhauer and with its existentialistic protagonist. It feels designed to ensnare baby boomers who are just beginning to worry about aging and depression. Its black humor feels deliberate.
Yes, I loved the language. (I give you “hamster-pellet All-Bran” as an example.)
Yes, the hair-splitting arguments surrounding feminism, machoism and capitalism were interesting.
Yes, the soul rending moments of helplessness were amusing.
Why then did I have the feeling the sole purpose of all this intellectualism, all this talent, was to make the critics say (as Pat Conroy did on a blurb on the back of the dust cover) that “Franzen gives notice that, from now on, he is only going to hunt with the big cats.”
Should it be so obvious that an author is “giving notice” no matter how exalted his talents might be? Should his readers begin to feel that they are treated somewhat like Chip Lambert (our protagonist), treats his students—with condescension? Might, there, in fact, be an intentional or subconscious parallel between real-life reader and fictional student in the mind of this author?
Or is this simply the show-off factor? We have here whole sections—not mere chapters--which allow no relief from Faulknerian sentence structure. There are exercises in stream of consciousness, back and forward motion, that produce in the struggling reader flashes of “when is something going to happen in real time?” Franzen also seems to delight in showing us how well he can “perform” the delicate task of point-of-view by doing no less than 15 of them in eight pages (starting on page 241—count them!) . There is an exercise in relating events to the title as well. “Corrections” is alluded to so many times it becomes disconcerting.
Back to the last laugh. Very near the end of the book, Chip realizes where the fatal flaw of his screenplay—the one he had been working and reworking—lay. From his point of view, he’d “written a thriller where he should have written farce.” I think Franzen was telling us something about his own work with that line and that—intentionally or not—that line unites Chip with Franzen and Franzen with Chip. We become acutely award that all this pretentious stuff is just Franzen’s brand of farce. Who has the last laugh now?
(Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the award-winning “This is the Place.” Leora Krygier, author of “First Came the Raven and Referee of the LA County Superior Court says: “Carolyn Howard-Johnson paints us a picture of Utah, love, family, and intolerance in beautiful strokes. Her elegant prose and eye for fine detail takes us on a fascinating journey through Mormon Country. This is a novel that both teaches and touches.” Learn more at www.tlt.com/authors/carolynhowardjohnson.htm.)
Buy The Corrections at amazon.com