Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is probably most famous for the brouhaha that occurred when Oprah selected it for her book club. Franzen made some unflattering comments about Oprah's audience and that ubiquitous sticker, and Oprah retracted her invitation for him to appear on her show. The Amazon reviews for The Corrections are split almost exactly between 1 and 5 star reviews, with many of the 1 star reviews mentioning Franzen's slight of Oprah and barely commenting on the work itself. Even Carlton, a huge fan of the greatest woman who has ever lived, dismissed the book after reading it because of what he termed Franzen's "inappropriate comments." I ask you, how is a book like this supposed to get a fair reading? Well, by being read, of course.

The plot of the book is rather simplistic on its face. Alfred Lambert is suffering from progressive dementia brought on by Alzheimers. Enid is his put-upon wife. Their son Chip is a disgraced college professor turned slacker. Their other son, Gary, has been financially successful but feels like an outsider in his own family, due partly to his clinical depression and partly to his shewish wife, and their divorced daughter Denise, who is experimenting with lesbianism. The storyline in the Corrections takes place mostly in the past, showing how each member of the family arrived at their current state and ultimately culminating in the family's last Christmas reunited. I won't say much about their eventual decisions and the results because Chris is reading the book and I don't want to spoil it.

This year, I've read more postmodern literature than ever before, and The Corrections seems to fall in that class. Most notably, I detected echoes of Delillo's White Noise. Many of the trademarks of pomo lit are here: the trivialization of the personal, the degeneration and reinvention of traditional roles, and the isolation and impersonality of the modern world. What was more surprising to me is the heart present here. Although there are elements of nihilism in The Corrections, the tone of the book overall is fun and incisive, and the characters, though deeply flawed, aren't emotionless caricatures. I wanted Chip to come home for Christmas, for Gary to reconnect with his family, and for Denise to succeed in something, and the book wants them to as well.

I am curious about why postmodern writers seem to have a fixation on bodily functions. There were two or three passages in the book about Alfred being tormented by a small chunk of fecal matter. I don't think that happened in any of the other books I read this year.

6 comments:

Christopher said...

Pomo authors are obsessed with bodily functions because one of the essential traits of pomo is the synthesis of low and high art. Scatalogical topics allow pomo authors to mix crude humor with more literary modes.

Nihil Novum said...

I blame James Joyce.

Christopher said...

That's not even close to being correct. Joyce is the quintessential *modern* writer, post-modernism didn't really take off until WWII

Nihil Novum said...

In terms of literary eras, you are correct. However, Ulysses is widely recognized as one of the first major novels to follow its characters through the mundane things of everyday life, including giving Bloom's thoughts while he's on the toilet pooping. Since Joyce was an influence on some schools of postmodernism, I think it's fair to assign some of the blame or credit to him.

Christopher said...

If that's the standard, you might as well blame it on ancient Roman novelists like Apuleius.

Carlton said...

I love everything about Oprah. I like Umma too.