“Often he spoke the written words in an articulate whisper that was of a piece with his general Narnian dearness as a person.” (The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen)
To say that Franzen’s writing in The Corrections is beautiful would be doing a disservice to all his book just taught me about writing. I doubt whether Franzen has been so adjectivally vague about anything his whole life. (Yet even in that sentence I’m succumbing to an overly dramatic generalization.) Perhaps I should say that when Franzen uses the word beautiful, he retrains and re-categorizes it, so in his hands even ubiquitous words and images gain a concreteness and specificity they’ve never had before.
Reading Franzen is an exercise in precision; he describes his characters with exacting truthfulness and does them the service of not pronouncing them wholly one way or another. He allows each member of his dysfunctional Lambert family to be full of contradictions: both a good and bad son, a farce and intellectual, full of shame and pride. The reader leaves the novel having almost no overriding idea of who Alfred Lambert, arguably the lynchpin of family and story, was. We are only left with a modicum of his thoughts and actions, and an image of a lion: private, loyal, and tyrannical all at once. Even though each scene and character are specific and explicit to the point of complete individuality, a reader would be hard-pressed not to see themselves reflected in the familial attitudes and relationships. While the individual Lamberts may not be an every man or woman, the family as a dysfunctional whole does seem to be an accurate portrait of the American family.
Recommended Action: Buy –
Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: Hopeful, but not hopeful like a fairytale
Further Reading: Though seemingly different types of books, I actually loved following the Prince of Tides up with this book. Both are terrific stories about family dysfunction, but Conroy’s and Franzen’s storytelling and writing styles couldn’t be further apart. Conroy favors a dramatic, theatrical tone that makes for fast, fun reading, while Franzen writes in a precise, intellectual way. Reading them side by side brought out the strengths of each.