Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

And, just like that, I’m back.

Back from where, you may ask?  (Or you may not, but I’m going to tell you anyway.)  First, we did this:

And then this:

And next this:

And even this:

And later this:

And finally, this:

And throughout, a whole lot of this:

But now, we’re back home.  Exhausted, and realizing that our next family trip must include some rocketing to the moon upon which a circus featuring Elvis is performing in our honor in order to compete with the sheer fabulousness of this trip, but home.  Furthermore, I’ve been reading some great books this summer, and have started about 700 blog posts in my head but haven’t yet been able to string together more than ten consecutive minutes at the computer.  Until now.  Summer, why so frantic?  Why?  Alas.  Here we go.

I finally read The Corrections.  In case you’ve forgotten, or simply blocked it out, Jonathan Franzen’s magnum opus was chosen as an Oprah selection in 2001 (not to mention that the book earned him a National Book Award and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer – because let’s be honest, what does any of that really matter when it’s Oprah we’re talking about?).  Anyway, amazingly, Franzen declined the obligatory dinner with Oprah.  CAN YOU IMAGINE???  The mind, it boggles.  Obviously, that made me want to read Franzen’s book even more, but for some reason I never quite got around to it.  (At almost 600 pages, it is a commitment book, just so you’re aware.)  Then, you know, I was having all. these. kids. and couldn’t hold a coherent thought in my head for about five years.  Plus Franzen went off the radar until just recently, when he published Freedom.  (The dude doesn’t publish often – his books are long.)  So I finally took The Corrections with me on vacation, and you guys, it’s great, as long as you like family sagas that feature TOTAL AND COMPLETE DYSFUNCTION.  Which I do, most certainly.

What I loved most about it were Franzen’s succinct and scathing descriptions.  Like poetry, each word is economized for maximum effect, nothing wasted, nothing extraneous.  (Hard to believe, in a gigantic book like this one.)  For example, on unappreciated gifts:

A few hours after [Enid’s gift to Caroline,] the mutilated Austrian reindeer had come to light [by turning] up in a trash can like a murdered baby.

(That final simile is just so wrong it’s right, no?)

On ill-advised home-décor:

The living room was half a block long and furnished with gilt chairs in sociability-killing formations.

On foreign travel:

I saw an old man kill a horse with a shotgun on a street near the airport.  I’d been on Baltic soil for maybe fifteen minutes.  Welcome to Lithuania!

On guilt and owing a debt:

He’d lived with the affliction of this debt until it had assumed the character of a neuroblastoma so intricately implicated in his cerebral architecture that he doubted he could survive its removal.

And finally, on dinner, possibly the most horrifying description of food ever encountered, by anyone:

A dollop of mashed rutabaga at rest on a plate expressed a clear yellowish liquid similar to plasma or the matter in a blister.  Boiled beet greens leaked something cupric, greenish.  Capillary action and the thirsty crust of flour drew both liquids under the liver.  When the liver was lifted, a faint suction could be heard.  The sodden lower crust was unspeakable.

Actually, the entire “Dinner of Revenge” scene is perfection:  Hilarious, and, to me, the most memorable portion of the book.  I would bet that Franzen had the most fun writing that section – his exuberant descriptions were so absolutely over the top that they struck me as utterly joyful.

Plus, now that I’ve finally read the book, I am even more delighted with the irony that Oprah picked it at all – did she really miss the fact that the novel is a scathing indictment on American consumer culture – a culture of which she is arguably the reigning queen and chief instigator?  (Or, at least, she was in 2001.)  Did The Corrections make it onto her “Favorite Things” list as well?  Oprah, you baffle me.



  1. I wanted to re-read your post after reading the book myself. The dinner scene is probably one of the best written scenes in a a book ever. I also toke strong note of the same sentence under: Ill advised Home Decor.

    1. Yes! The dinner scene was amazing!!