Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Corrections

by Jonathan Franzen

Thumbs down, down, down.

This was one of those books I wish I had never read.  I made myself carry on, but several times since then, I've wished I hadn't.  I kept hoping for a meaningful resolution.  It didn't come.

On the bright side, there were entertaining moments.  The characters are very well drawn and very creative.  An example of this is one character who has the habit of scratching his scalp and smelling his fingertips.  Eeeewww!  But very vividly portrayed.

Unfortunately, Mr. Franzen takes this same talent to portray every twisted familial relationship imaginable.  The characters are all unstable in their own ways.  The family around whom the plot revolves is totally messed up.

Several of the characters enjoy a variety of deviant behaviors that are then described with this same flair for detail and memorable portrayal.  And that is my fundamental complaint with this book.  I am now stuck with these unseemly images in my head.  I feel like I accidentally viewed something extremely naughty.  I feel kind of violated.  Yuck.

OK, for anyone who still wants to know more about the book, I suppose I ought to give brief plot summary.  I think one is supposed to when one is reviewing a book.

Franzen takes readers along the lives of the Lambert family.  The book is divided into sections, each section highlighting the history and evolution (devolution) of one member of the family, while still spinning the thread of the contemporary story line.  The main story line is linear, but within each section, spun within the narrative, we hear each character's story.

Alfred, the father, is suffering from MS and early Alzheimer's.  The mom, Enid, wants one more family Christmas at home.  She really, really wants it.

The two brother and sister each have their own issues in dealing with what they see as their mother's somewhat obsessive desire for a family Christmas and with their father's impending demise.

Franzen drags his readers through the muck of each person's life and shows how they come to some sort of "correction" in their attitude.  Unfortunately, the corrections are often more of the same.  Selfishness and denial, submission within unhealthy relationships.  And yet somehow, we're supposed to think it is all better.  Or maybe we are not.  Perhaps that is the point.  Perhaps we are supposed to come to peace with the fact that everyone is screwy and as long as we feel OK with it, then it's OK.

I got the impression we are supposed to see the Lambert family as survivors, heroes.  But I saw only a train wreck.  I feel like I should add another indexed tab for this one called deviant behavior.

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