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- The Corrections was named a selection for Oprah's Book Club on 24 September, 2001
- Jonathan Franzen was disinvited from Oprah's Book Club on 22 October, 2001
- The Corrections won the National Book Award for Fiction, 2001
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A : engaging and very well done -- if not always pleasant -- look at contemporary American family life
See our review for fuller assessment.
|The Atlantic Monthly
|Christian Science Monitor
|The Hudson Review
|London Rev. of Books
|The LA Times
|Neue Zürcher Zeitung
|The New Criterion
|The New Republic
|News & Observer
|The NY Observer
|The NY Rev. of Books
|The NY Times
|The NY Times Book Rev.
|O, The Oprah Magazine
|Rev. of Contemp. Fiction
|The Village Voice
|Wall Street Journal
|The Washington Post
Not quite a consensus, though all grant he is a gifted writer.
Most are very enthusiastic, some positively enraptured.
From the Reviews:
- "Despite a complex and involved plot, the driving force of the book is that simplest, most intricate of engines, the unhappy family. (...) The Corrections is a wide-open performance showcasing the full range of his skills and his eclectic intelligence." - Stewart O'Nan, The Atlantic Monthly
- "It's a big, showy powerhouse of a novel, revved up with ideas but satisfyingly beholden to the traditions of character and plot. (...) The greatest strength of The Corrections, and there are many, is its skillful narrative relativism, the way it delivers one version of the truth about a character, then fleshes out that reality over time into something larger and more complex." - Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe
- "Under this torrent of hype, I tried to dislike The Corrections, but it's no use. The book is wildly brilliant, funny, and wise, a rich feast of cultural analysis. Though it runs to almost 600 pages, I'm stunned by how much Franzen manages to cover and how compelling the story remains throughout." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor
- "Franzen's achievement is to weave through these characters' frequently hilarious stories some extremely serious themes (.....) Franzen has mixed familiar ingredients into a big tasty stew. However, his book is shown in a dimmer light when compared to the very best of current American fiction, such as Philip Roth's recent The Human Stain" - Katie Owen, Daily Telegraph
- "Mr Franzen is an astute observer and at its best the writing can be utterly authentic. (...) However, as the novel stretches to capture every aspect of hyperkinetic American culture the simple structure of the plot proves too flimsy to sustain the sub-plots and social commentary piled upon it, and this ambitious novel proves to be truly great in length alone." - The Economist
- "It's a big, ambitious, unwieldy hybrid of a book -- a literary novel and a social document, an intimate family portrait and a sprawling cultural landscape, a floor wax and a dessert topping -- but Franzen somehow manages to glue it all together with surprising warmth and wit." - Benjamin Svetkey, Entertainment Weekly
- "What this man writes is true, and what is true indicts us. The Corrections transcends its many wonderful moments to become that rarest thing, a contemporary novel that will endure." - Sven Birkerts, Esquire
- "(F)ailings are lost in the bounteous flow. We live when we do, Franzen's style is the opposite of Gide or Turgenev, and his exuberance and excess are aspects of the American novel itself, as they are of his country." - George Walden, Evening Standard
- "The Corrections, the most successful literary novel of the 21st century so far, is old-fashioned in its virtues, worthy of the 19th century or a good deal earlier. (...) Despite its length, The Corrections is always enticingly readable, incredibly direct in its address." - Evening Standard
- "(W)ide rather than deep, and smart rather than subtle. (...) But the book is frequently distinguished and challenging." - James Wood, The Guardian
- "If his first two novels were meant to be worked at under a study-lamp, this one you can read in the bath. It is a kind of long, warm, pleasurable soak all by itself. Which isn't to say that it's shallow, or that there aren't cold draughts from under the door. (...) Novels of 600 pages usually fray, but this one gathers every loose thread." - Blake Morrison, The Guardian
- "Gaddis's influence is apparent in the cruciality of the tone -- every sentence bespeaks a coherent and plausible world view, and their cumulative effect is to leave the reader groping for intimidated assent. The difference is that I gave up on The Recognitions at about page 400, while the last 200 pages of The Corrections kept me awake until 2am." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
- "The life story of the five main characters and the secondary characters around them allows Jonathan Franzen to present the full impetus and extent of the world picture of the West at the end of the 20th century." - Batya Gur, Haaeretz
- "As a self-conscious practitioner of highbrow art, Franzen bites off more than he can chew at times, and a good editor might have tightened the book by at least a hundred pages, but this latest attempt at what used to be called The Great American Novel is the only must-read fiction of the year." - Alan Davis, The Hudson Review
- "But although the play of surfaces is absolutely entrancing, the heart of the novel is sometimes less alluring. (...) This ambitious piece of fiction may be the novel America was waiting for, but some of us here are still waiting." - Natasha Walter, The Independent
- "People who read this book will laugh and fidget at the dynamic ironies and the journalistic lists, but it's the lostness they'll remember, and the way this lostness plays into the lives of the others.(...) The Corrections is a sometimes beautifully woven narrative of disappointments, costly gains and impending losses." - Andrew O'Hagan, London Review of Books
- "The Corrections is not a masterpiece; it is a second-rate work with first-rate moments and ambitions. (...) Franzen is so studious about representing the way people live now that his characters are truer to their creator's idea of them than to themselves." - Lee Siegel, The Los Angeles Times
- "The Corrections has been rightly marketed and reviewed as this yearís major novel. It is an adroit one, both hilarious and stirring, and deserves the many kudos it is sure to gather. But Franzen needs to sever his ties with the young and hip." - Max Watman, The New Criterion
- "(A)nd there is, rather too often, an easy journalism of narrative style. But to be fair to The Corrections, there is also considerable grace and power; and these qualities appear most reliably when Franzen is cleaving to the human, when he is laying bare the clogged dynamics of his fictional family, the Lamberts." - James Wood, The New Republic
- "Franzen aimed to link mental depression to economic depression, and he does this in poignant, non-trivial ways. (...) I believe The Corrections is a triumph. But it is a triumph that leads, as depression often does, into a black hole." - Nicholas Blincoe, New Statesman
- "It's a big, intelligent and mostly compassionate novel that's so much fun one hates to see it end. Sprawling and dense, comical yet poignant, The Corrections is a novel of our times -- one that generates intense moments of cultural recognition while rendering a darkly comic portrait of an American family. (...) Think of the book as a blend of postmodern meganovel and Victorian family saga." - James Schiff, News & Observer
- "Ironically, it's Franzen's ambition to write about American life on a grand scale that blinds him to the real strengths of his novel. Because inside this immense book there is indeed a slim and extraordinarily moving story struggling to get out. (...) (M)ake no mistake, this is a writer with talent to burn. What he does not have, so far, is the ability to tell the difference between something great and something that's merely big." - Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
- "Franzen, a relative newcomer, has crafted a moving epic for our time, a juicy, intricate, witty, tragic saga of a single dysfunctional midwestern family whose ills and anxieties reflect those of the country and culture as a whole. (...) The Lambert family may be in sore need of repair, but the novel they inhabit requires none." - Daniel Mendelsohn, New York
- "The Corrections is mostly aimed at the heart, in a way that makes it an agreeably accessible novel, poised halfway between postmodern chic and plain, old-fashioned storytelling. It sucks you into the vortex of family life, the whirling blend of happy and unhappy; it lands you in the sticky goo of mingled love and hate. What Mr. Franzen does - brilliantly -- is to risk sentimentality (the bane of postmodern chic) to get at emotional truth." - Adam Begley, The New York Observer
- "Full of understatement and overreaction, irony and anger, anthropology and surrealism, glut and glee -- the rising gorge, the falling tear, politics, parody, pratfall, and prophetic snit -- The Corrections is the whole package, as if nobody ever told Franzen that the social novel is dead and straight white males vestigial." - John Leonard, The New York Review of Books
- "Though often self-indulgent and long-winded, the novel leaves the reader with both a devastating family portrait and a harrowing portrait of America in the late 1990's (.....) Clearly Mr. Franzen's novel would have benefited enormously from a strict editing job. (...) All in all, however, The Corrections remains a remarkably poised performance." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
- "No one book, of course, can provide everything we want in a novel. But a book as strong as The Corrections seems ruled only by its own self-generating aesthetic: it creates the illusion of giving a complete account of a world, and while we're under its enchantment it temporarily eclipses whatever else we may have read." - David Gates, The New York Times Book Review
- "These complex, marvelously drawn characters -- and their closely interwoven stories -- are enough to keep us reading attentively, and with pleasure (.....) But what makes the novel so truly electric are the multiple jolts of recognition it delivers as Franzen gets so many different scenes eerily right" - Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine
- "Yet as the Lamberts' tale of familial dysfunction turns inward, Franzen's narrative radiates outward, brilliantly weaving a web between the local and the global, the individual and the big picture. An entertaining read that demands our empathy and understanding, The Corrections is a great American novel for our time. It is the rare book that engages the heart and the head." - Trey Strecker, Review of Contemporary Fiction
- "The Corrections is a lumpy, strange, singular work, very much of this moment even as it harks back to a kind of American novel long deemed extinct. Its portrayal of American family life sometimes seems cruel and unforgiving, yet the sheer amplitude of its vision implies a kind of sympathy, or at least understanding. (...) It's a vivid reading experience of tremendous texture and dimension, a masterwork of observed detail. It's not always likable, but it's real." - Andrew O'Hehir, Salon
- "I don't get it. The Corrections isnít an especially bad novel, but it failed to hold me. The characters are rather cloudy; he keeps telling you what they are like, but none of them leaps off the page or stays in the mind. They are just names, going through one situation after another. (...) The Corrections seems to me like an effort of the will; a novelist of some ability attempting to live beyond his means." - Philip Hensher, The Spectator
- "The Corrections is one of the great books of the year. A tragicomic ensemble story about a combustible family, The Corrections has the absorbing treacheries of married life, the comic squalors of cruise-ship travel and the shenanigans of global capitalism. It also has language that builds in powerful, rolling strides." - Richard Lacayo, Time
- "The novel is certainly magnificent in conception (.....) But it is sometimes less than magnificent in execution. The result is big, brave, funny, honest, intelligent, somewhat rambling, and very uneven. It is hard not to be wrong-footed by the sudden changes in tone." - Theo Tait, Times Literary Supplement
- "Could this be the first great novel of the 21st century ?" - Jesse Berrett, The Village Voice
- "The Corrections is a wonderful book, and in many places it looks and smells like a great one. It is simultaneously tragic and hilarious, sweeping and minute, hot and cold. It even has some of the failings of a great novel: There is no real overarching plot to drive us through the narrative (which goes forward on sheer authorial energy), and like almost every long book, this one probably could be shorter. Yet I wouldn't change either of those things; at the end, I wished only that it would go on." - Daniel Akst, Wall Street Journal
- "Franzen shores up his Zeitgeist-heavy narrative with the indispensable masonry of a carefully crafted plot, exuberant yet plausible satire and, most of all, closely observed character. Where other writers in this broad stretch of postmodern storytelling are tempted into gestural flashiness and high-ironic gimmickry, Franzen narrates The Corrections with a subdued, assured and compassionate touch." - Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post
- "(E)in Meisterwerk, ein riesiges Mosaik von Realitätspartikeln, das auch als Kunst-Werk erkennbar bleibt, als Konstruktion einer Hyper-Realität, und dennoch selten kalt wirkt, immer wieder in eine bemerkenswerte Lebendigkeit und große emotionale Tiefe umschlägt. Ein sehr, sehr lustiges, sehr, sehr böses, sehr, sehr trauriges, sehr, sehr lehrreiches Buch." - Elmar Krekeler, Die Welt
- "Um es gleich zu sagen: Franzens Korrekturen sind schon ein ziemlich guter Roman, aber so toll auch wieder nicht. (...) Zu viel ist die sprachliche Möblierung der Szenerie mit kostbaren Metaphern und sprechenden Bildern. (...) Und es fehlt jener Wärmestrom der Menschenliebe, den wir von John Updike kennen, der eine ganz ähnliche Welt beschreibt" - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is a welcome chunk of Americana.
Despite focussing on fairly unpleasant events and despite being populated by largely unsympathetic characters, The Corrections is a consistently enjoyable read.
It is hardly wearing (and, appealingly, hardly taxing), and despite being near 600 pages long, it is a book one would not have minded being even longer.
The Corrections is a good, old-fashioned novel, the writing and presentation seemingly effortless (with only a few sententious and too-clever slips where Franzen tries to do more than he can carry off), the characters and stories engaging.
There is pathos and humanity, humour and tragedy.
The small, deeply personal tragedies of life, especially, Franzen captures well.
Franzen tells the story of the Lamberts: Alfred and Enid, retired in their hometown, Midwestern St. Jude, are growing old.
Alfred, in particular, is having difficulties, mentally and physically.
Their three grown children live on the East Coast: Denise is a chef, Gary a banker, Chip is between jobs.
Gary is married and has three children, while Denise and Chip are less tied down.
St.Jude, as one of the characters notes, is the patron saint of hopeless causes, but living in a city named after him hasn't much helped the Lambert clan.
Alfred has seemed determined to avoided success for years: he took retirement just short of the point when he could have collected a much larger pension (for no good reason, as far as long-suffering wife Enid can tell).
A second possible windfall is also avoided: Alfred used to tinker in his basement, and even patented some of his discoveries.
One substance now seems to be a key ingredient in a revolutionary neurobiological agent, Corecktall, that pre-IPO company Axon is developing.
It promises to be a wonder drug: "Simply put, Corecktall offers for the first time the possibility of renewing and improving the hard wiring of an adult human brain."
But Axon initially only offers Alfred a token sum for his patent -- and he is willing to accept it, rather than ask for more.
Alfred's growing debilitation as his hardwiring fails him and Enid's attempts at creating an atmosphere of what she believes familial normality might be dominate the book.
Enid wants to assemble the family together for at least one final Christmas in St.Jude, a long-term plan that doesn't look very promising.
Almost entirely oblivious to the failings and failures of all around her, Enid focusses largely on this one goal.
The story moves between present and pasts, as the focus shifts from child to child and the story of each of the five Lamberts is recounted.
Hapless Chip looks like the ultimate loser, his pathetic life falling apart completely as he is introduced.
When his parents are in New York, visiting him as they pass through, he can't even manage to lunch with them.
But his adoring mother, willing to believe that he works for the Wall Street Journal (rather than simply making unpaid contributions to the Warren Street Journal: A Monthly of the Transgressive Arts), and his ever more absent-minded father can accept this.
Fired from his teaching position at a small, elite college (just short of getting tenure, in best Lambert fashion) Chip's life has since spiraled out of control.
On the day his parents visit he gets unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend, realizes the screenplay he has all his hopes pinned on probably won't be his ticket to riches and fame -- and then winds up going to the Baltics with his now ex-girlfriend's husband, a one-time politician (before Western interests and mutual funds bought up and then liquidated his native Lithuania) and now would-be entrepreneur.
Chip is enlisted to help perpetrate some dubious cyber-fraud, duping foreign investors in a fairly unusual Web-based scam.
The first installment of Chip's story is good, manic fun.
Sister Denise, who makes a brief appearance, seems marvelously normal in comparison, and Chip comes off as the apparent black sheep of the family.
As it turns out, however, his siblings have their own problems.
Brother Gary seems close to manic too, though his life looks much more idyllic.
A successful banker, happier to work at a small institution than at some ultra-competitive Wall Street firm, married to Caroline (who happens to be nicely wealthy) and with three kids, Gary's life looks fairly perfect.
But it's not.
He is disturbed by the Axon's offer to his father and wants to set that situation right.
And manipulative Caroline seems to think he is clinically depressed and should get some help.
Which he won't.
Caroline also refuses to even consider going to St. Jude for Christmas, an ongoing source of friction.
When the kids take sides Caroline also tends to emerge victorious.
Gary wonders where he went wrong.
Sister Denise, a sometimes successful chef, has also managed to make something of a mess of her life.
Once married, to a much older man, she achieved professional success, but has now also managed to get herself fired (showing spectacularly bad judgement in her personal affairs).
Franzen weaves this tapestry of past and present, building up to the Christmas get-together.
As the pieces of the past are revealed, the present makes more sense.
There is, after all, a Lambert Christmas, and a coda of vaguely happy endings as Franzen ties things up fairly neatly and nicely.
There is a lot to this book.
There is a great deal of concern about mental states, and chemical and psychological fixes.
A variety of drugs come into play: Corecktall et al. are held out as hope for Alfred's aging brain, while Enid toys with a drug she is introduced to on a cruise ship and that isn't legal in the US.
Coming to terms with the past (in Denise's case) and facing the present (Chip) also help the characters become more well-adjusted people.
The individual tales Franzen tells are good, ranging from Chip's generally comic adventures in Lithuania to Denise's unsettled love life.
The character's pasts are very nicely done, though some gaps remain.
Some pieces from the past are very nicely revealed, from Enid's early hopes to, in one of the most poignant moments, the realization why Alfred took early retirement.
The book does not always proceed at an even keel.
There are many asides, some significant, while others seem more like showpieces or are left unresolved.
Bits of violence, including a murder and a pending execution, for example, flicker a bit uneasily in the background.
Even among the larger pieces too much seems left unresolved and characters (like Gary's wife, Caroline) used only for a particular purpose and then left behind.
Franzen also goes to some extremes -- the Lithuanian episode, an unlikely cruise ship accident (or rather: a likely accident with an extremely unlikely outcome), and some other scenes seem unnecessarily far-fetched, the broad humour sometimes at odds with the sombre subjects.
The Corrections is a serious comic book, and Franzen handles both equally well: there are scenes that are truly hilarious, and much that is serious and presented at such.
But it does make for an odd mix.
Franzen also manages to illuminate the Lamberts well: they are vibrantly alive as characters, right down to Alfred's final refusal.
They are, however, by and large, not very sympathetic or likable characters.
Indeed, their failings -- especially their elemental, ingrained character flaws -- are quite off-putting.
This makes them, perhaps, true to life, truly human -- and truly American -- but not sympathetic.
Despite any and all flaws, The Corrections is a very fine read.
Franzen writes confidently and presents his material, whether comic or serious, very well.
He briefly goes off track on a few occasions, but on the whole it is a sustained tour de force of good writing and good story-telling -- so welcome because that is so rarely found nowadays.
Note must be made that The Corrections comes burdened with an amount of hype that dwarfs the hefty tome itself.
Unlike most overhyped cultural products, it can stand up to the hype fairly well.
It is a good, entertaining, well-written book.
It should be noted, however, that it is not an extraordinary book.
Indeed, it is lowered expectations that make The Corrections stand out so.
Certainly, this is what fiction should be like: solid, approachable, well-written, etc.
But because so little of contemporary American fiction is The Corrections can be seen as a shining example of what fiction can be, rather than a good but relatively unremarkable example thereof.
Also: The Corrections is being referred to as "literary fiction" -- generally a kiss of death for a book (though it certainly won't be for this one).
The Corrections certainly is literary fiction but -- as most really good literary fiction should be -- is not daunting or off-puttingly complex or obscure.
True, Franzen can't refrain from a few literary games (and some seriously overwritten sentences), but this book isn't DeLillan or Pynchonesque or anything like that.
It is popular fiction -- more, say, John Irving (especially in terms of characters and stories) than postmodernist experimentalism (though with some ultraliterary bits strewn in to keep the grad school students busy in their seminars).
And it is damn good popular fiction, too: Franzen understands how to write a novel (as few contemporary authors seem to), and he does so with a refreshing enthusiasm.
(The cachet of "literary fiction" apparently holds some mysterious take-me-seriously power, but too often is a label used to dismiss a title as too complex to bother with.
In the US the term apparently now covers everything from John Irving's work (or, indeed, even Tom Wolfe's) to Finnegans Wake, limiting its usefulness.
But whatever one wants to call it, The Corrections is the type of book that one hopes will eventually be found in the mass-market paperback rack at the local supermarket: everyman literature, deserving of the broadest possible audience.
Fat chance, maybe, (there will probably be more graduate school seminars devoted to the book than supermarkets that stock it five years from now) but one can always hope.)
(But note: chances have improved considerably with the 24 September 2001 selection of this title for Oprah's Book Club, apparently a huge sales-booster which means the book will likely reach at least some of the audience it should.
Good for Oprah !
Good for America !)
(But note: chances have now evaporated, after Jonathan Franzen made a number of clearly ill-advised remarks about Oprah ! and her book club, leaving the public with the impression that he is an arrogant, smug "literary" type who looks down upon the (common) reader.
Thin-skinned Oprah promptly uninvited and de-selected him and his book on 22 October 2001, announcing that "Jonathan Franzen will not be on The Oprah Winfrey Show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection" -- rather than having him on and taking him to task for (or at least exploring) his remarks and discussing the roots of the conflicts she perceives.
It is a ridiculous situation, and it has been handled badly by all involved -- with Franzen and all semi-serious literature getting the brunt of the often unfair criticism.
Curiously, practically no one thinks Oprah has done anything wrong, though of course she has: the only thing that counts is the book, and the quality and the significance of book has nothing to do with its author, no matter how rude and obnoxious and arrogant he might be.
Oprah can, of course, do anything she wants on her show, but she seemed to sincerely believe that The Corrections was worthy of the attention of her audience -- and she was right.
Her act now seems to imply that she doesn't care about writing and reading at all, that she is only interested, like so many others, in the cult of the author.
It is the personality behind the book, not the words between the covers that she apparently wanted to share with her audience (as is perhaps appropriate for a TV personality).
Too bad: great literature is often written by really obnoxious, unpleasant people (who are often not particularly media-savvy).
The photogenic and docile Franzen was an unlikely candidate to provoke Oprah's ire -- someone who looks the part for the publicity tour and is plugging what is actually a decent book -- but he did, with a venegeance.
Franzen may be embarrassed, but he is certainly making enough with the book (benefiting from even this relatively bad publicity).
And Oprah is -- as we see by the reactions to this affair -- essentially untouchable.
The real losers ?
The reading public -- especially the broader public which usually wouldn't come across such a title (but which is the audience that should be reading the book), generously made aware of it by Oprah.
But now Oprah has set them against it -- and tarred all serious fiction (and all books written by snobby authors) with one broad brush.
Too bad for America !)
See also: A Book, an Author, and a Talk Show Host: Some Notes on the Oprah-Franzen Debacle at the complete review Quarterly.
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Other books by Jonathan Franzen under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- See Index of Contemporary American fiction at the complete review
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About the Author:
American author Jonathan Franzen was born in 1959.
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© 2001-2012 the complete review
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