Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I recognize that this book is at times exquisitely written. Franzen has a knack for vivid, unexpected, and appropriate psychological metaphor. I also recognize that we're screwed-up people living in a screwed-up world. Franzen cuts through the hypocrisy and reveals the dysfunction like no one else.

My problem's not with the head but the heart. The characters are revealed in such a stark and unforgiving light that you're reluctant to identify with any of them (although you do sound the laugh of recognition all too often). They aren't monsters but they act monstrously, and I just don't want to immerse myself in their world for that long, regardless of the skill of the author describing their actions and addictions. That skill works against him at times, as when there's a long and disgusting description of a family dinner around the middle of the book. Why should the reader endure that?

There are a few glimmers of true light here and there -- especially one scene about forgiveness near the end -- and it can be entertaining to see the characters get skewered by their own foibles, the fools caught by their folly. I think Frazen's most recent book, Purity, might be better because his targets are juicier there. And The Corrections seems to fit its time like a hand in a glove. It's just ... we've moved past that time now, and I don't think this book has retained its value with age.

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