The Corrections "review"

Sigh… Where to start?  This book was the best and worse book I’ve read recently.  Sorry, but I can’t narrow it down any better than that.  I feel this book should be book one of an epic six book saga that runs for a time-line that reaches the eventual colonizing of the moon.  I say this because it reminds me of Frank Herbert’s Dune, one of my all-time favorite book series.
    If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Dune: I fully and unreservedly recommend it.  Both novels are richly layered with meaning and subtext.  While The Corrections has some clear social commentary on globalization, family values, and the proliferation of technology.  Dune could be said to have the same.  Barring the fact that Dune’s world is completely fictional and Franzen’s could conceivably be set in the Midwest of America somewhere.  Both books relate to the real world through their wealth of description.  Every nuance of the characters’ lives is peeked into.  I imagine the notes corresponding to the author’s technique are the same.  Frank Herbert left enough notes pertaining to the world of Dune that he son was able to write volumes more about the world later in life.
    My favorite theme used throughout The Corrections is the family value trend.  Franzen’s writing on the subject just seems so erudite.  With his writing style, it becomes hard to question the thoughts or motives of any of the characters.  He develops a separate value system for each character and basically just lets them grow their own personality.  Each character is vivid in their own right as well as overly complex.  In my personal opinion in regards to fiction writing: the more complex the better for any character.  To the people who argue that a character’s inspiration “doesn’t make sense” I simply counter those emotional responses are, by definition, irrational.  If I were to understand every decision a character may make: I might as well be reading my own journal.  I don’t read fiction to justify my own responses to any given situation.  I read fiction to gain a new perspective to circumstances I might never be exposed to – but the fact or not of my own experience should not pertain to the current character.  If it did, I would probably be in more of a depressive state than I am currently.
    Through Franzen’s story, we are exposed to a complex web of emotional trials that are so terrible they can only bring a smile to our own mouths.  He has the singular talent of turning a tedious dinner into a fountain of intrigue.  Turning misfortune into lessons for the reader to enjoy but whose significance is lost upon the actual character.  Alfred quits his job early thus reducing his pension significantly directly causing the devastating sweep to Enid’s lifelong dream of simply living comfortably.  In her eyes she had sacrificed love for stability.  Their son Chip was a shoe-in for tenure until he decided to experiment with a student and ended up looking for a job with a Lithuania crime boss!  Chip would rather move to a country about to collapse under its own economic weight to avoid spending Christmas with his parents.
    Denise is a chef; she leaves her spouse and goes to Europe on a culinary tour. She gets a little friendly with her new partner’s wife… She is fired too.  The other brother; Gary, is the staff manager at CenTrust. His wife, Carolyn, keeps telling him that he is depressed and harps on him to acknowledge it.  To top it all off we have Enid who is trying to cope with all of these apparent failings in her own children and life choices.  She uses specific tactics that are designed to make certain arguments or circumstances land in her favor.  Mix with Alfred’s ever deepening dementia and stubborn death and we get one very sour yet sweet pastry.
No one’s life is “perfect”.  As this novel illustrates, life is a series of corrections to recalibrate our self-prescribed flight plans.  Do these corrections improve our lives?  I would argue yes, but only because the path of pure fatalism is a slippery slope.  Each person is different: one person’s correction to a past mistake might be another s source of correction.  For example, if Alfred had been less strict on his children, maybe they wouldn’t be in some of their current situations.  But who’s to say what situation they would be in?  The trail of cause and effect is infinitely long.  It boils down to personal choice and personal values. 
    So, the take-home message of this book is that we’re all doomed but that everything will be okay too.  Accept the absurd for what it is: the absurd. With regards to that; I would say this is the best and worse book I’ve read this year. 

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