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Books: The Corrections

February 4, 2012

  I read Franzen’s novels in reverse order, and so was spared the temptation of thinking that Freedom was “just like The Corrections.” It is not, in fact.

On the surface it may appear to be so: the books are structured similarly, with long, chapterless sections that are used to follow a specific character in depth; the books both deal with the disintegration and dysfunction of a family unit; the books are both embedded with commentary on the issues of our times, laced with prose that demands underlining, exclamation marks in margins. But where socio-political commentary is nearly always central to the characters in Freedom, the view in The Corrections is a sidelong one.

Instead the investigation leans more heavily on the characters themselves, Chip with his intelligence, his failures and temptations; Gary with his prejudice, his compulsion for superiority, his depression. And on and on, through Denise, the youngest, and ultimately the parents themselves, until a complete picture of this extraordinary and ordinary family emerges. It is a dark and complex book, a serious work with moments of humor that grow up from the depths of dysfunction. It is also a deeply compassionate book, reminding us, each time  the characters verge on being too self-deluding to truly empathize with, that they are complete humans as we are–kind and vicious, intelligent and shortsighted, loving and self-serving at once. It is these complexities, together with an astoundingly talented writer, that make The Corrections what it is. Worth owning in hardcover.

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