The New York Review of Books
You will laugh, wince, groan, weep, leave the table and maybe the country, promise never to go home again, and be reminded of why you read serious fiction in the first place.
The New York Times Book Review
Marvelous . . . Everything we want in a novelexcept, when it's rocking along, for it never to be over.
Jonathan Franzen has built a powerful novel out of the swarming consciousness of a marriage, a family, a whole cultureour culture.
San Francisco Chronicle
Looms as a model for what ambitious storytelling can still say about modern life . . . Franzen swings for the fences and clears them with yards to spare.
The novel we've been waiting for...a stunning anatomy of family dysfunction...a contemporary novel that will endure.
In its complexity, its scrutinizing and utterly unsentimental humanity, and its grasp of the subtle relationships between domestic drama and global events....It is a major accomplishment.
The Boston Globe
Frighteningly, luminously authentic.
A genuine masterpiece . . . This novel is a wisecracking, eloquent, heartbreaking beauty.
The brightest, boldest, and most ambitious novel I've read in many years.
The New York Observer
Brilliant . . . Almost unbearably lifelike.
David Foster Wallace
Funny and deeply sad, large-hearted and merciless, The Corrections is a testament to the range and depth of pleasures great fiction affords.
This is a spellbinding novel . . . that is both funny and piercing.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Novels dealing with domestic crises and familial dysfunction are part of a long and honorable tradition. (As Tolstoy said in 1877, "All happy families
are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.") Jonathan Franzen, gifted author of The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, now claims a place in that tradition with The Corrections, his funny, desolating, unsparing account of a divided, deeply unhappy American family.
At times evocative of two classic portraits of domestic and spiritual malaise, Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road and Joseph Heller's Something Happened, The Corrections ultimately stands squarely on its own. The narrative focuses on three critical months in the history of the Lambert family, longtime residents of the fictional midwestern city of St. Jude. Albert, the patriarch, is a once-formidable figure whose frequent rages and implacable rectitude have dominated life in the Lambert household for nearly 50 years. As the novel begins, Albert had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Against the perfectly articulated background of his physical and mental deterioration, Enid -- Albert's long-suffering, perpetually dissatisfied wife -- develops a single, overriding obsession: to see her scattered family return to St. Jude for one last Christmas together.
The bulk of the story depicts the disordered lives of the three departed Lambert children: Gary, a grasping, increasingly unhappy investment banker with family troubles of his own; Chip, a former professor and failed screenwriter who drifts into a dangerous, highly illegal investment scam in economically depressed Lithuania; and Denise, a gifted chef lost in a maze of sexual confusion and "moral chaos." In time, and by various circuitous routes, all three will find their way to that climactic Christmas in St. Jude, and to a final confrontation with the ghosts of the past, a confrontation that is painful, tragic, and liberating, all at once.
Supremely intelligent and deeply affecting, The Corrections anatomizes both a family and a society, gracefully illuminating the inner lives of a handful of characters struggling to escape "the givens of the self," and to find and apply "the corrections" that will transform and redeem their lives. Through a combination of wit, empathy, and precise observation, Franzen himself transforms the familiar materials of domestic drama into something luminous and new, giving us a powerful, often beautiful novel of clear -- and possibly enduring -- significance. (Bill Sheehan)
If some authors are masters of suspense, others postmodern verbal acrobats, and still others complex-character pointillists, few excel in all three arenas. In his long-awaited third novel, Franzen does. Unlike his previous works, The 27th City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992), which tackled St. Louis and Boston, respectively, this one skips from city to city (New York; St. Jude; Philadelphia; Vilnius, Lithuania) as it follows the delamination of the Lambert family Alfred, once a rigid disciplinarian, flounders against Parkinson's-induced dementia; Enid, his loyal and embittered wife, lusts for the perfect Midwestern Christmas; Denise, their daughter, launches the hippest restaurant in Philly; and Gary, their oldest son, grapples with depression, while Chip, his brother, attempts to shore his eroding self-confidence by joining forces with a self-mocking, Eastern-Bloc politician. As in his other novels, Franzen blends these personal dramas with expert technical cartwheels and savage commentary on larger social issues, such as the imbecility of laissez-faire parenting and the farcical nature of U.S.-Third World relations. The result is a book made of equal parts fury and humor, one that takes a dry-eyed look at our culture, at our pains and insecurities, while offering hope that, occasionally at least, we can reach some kind of understanding. This is, simply, a masterpiece. Agent, Susan Golomb. (Sept.) Forecast: Franzen has always been a writer's writer and his previous novels have earned critical admiration, but his sales haven't yet reached the level of, say, Don DeLillo at his hottest. Still, if the ancillary rights sales and the buzz at BEA are any indication, The Corrections should behis breakout book. Its varied subject matter will endear it to a genre-crossing section of fans (both David Foster Wallace and Michael Cunningham contributed rave blurbs) and FSG's publicity campaign will guarantee plenty of press. QPB main, BOMC alternate. Foreign rights sold in the U.K., Denmark, Holland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Spain. Nine-city author tour. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Here's a family that will never be mistaken for the Royal Tennenbaums. Meet the Lamberts: Dad is a retired railroad man who is slipping into dementia; Mom is still trying to believe in the rosiest possible marriage and family life; and their grown children are each living out a catastrophe. The youngest son is failing miserably as a sort of screenwriter in Lithuania, the daughter is a chef of some accomplishment who can't seem to keep out of bed with just about anyone, and the oldest son is yelling at and withholding affection from his family just as his father did before him. The family home is in St. Jude (aptly named for the patron saint of hopeless causes). Enid, the wife and mother, wants the whole family together for one last Christmas before her husband, Alfred, slips beyond reach. Getting them all under the same roof even for a few hours is a massive undertaking. Franzen is a keen observer of the way the world works, and it is a tribute to his skill as a novelist that the listener remains interested in the craziness of these lives. Reader Dylan Baker brings these quirky characters to life. Recommended for fiction collections in public libraries. - Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The recent brouhaha about the death of realistic fiction may well be put to rest by Franzen's stunning third novel: a symphonic exploration of family dynamics and social conflict and change that leaps light-years beyond its critically praised predecessors The Twenty-Seventh City (1998) and Strong Motion (1992). The story's set in the Midwest, New York City, and Philadelphia, and focused on the tortured interrelationships of the five adult Lamberts. Patriarch Alfred, a retired railroad engineer, drifts in and out of hallucinatory lapses inflicted by Parkinson's, while stubbornly clinging to passe conservative ideals. His wife Enid, a compulsive peacemaker with just a hint of Edith Bunker in her frazzled "niceness," nervously subverts Alfred's stoicism, while lobbying for "one last Christmas" gathering of her scattered family at their home in the placid haven of St. Jude. Eldest son Gary, a Philadelphia banker, is an unhappily married "materialist"; sister Denise is a rapidly aging thirtysomething chef rebounding from a bad marriage and unresolvable relationships with male and female lovers; and younger son Chip-the most abrasively vivid figure here-is an unemployable former teacher and failed writer whose misadventures in Lithuania, where he's been impulsively hired "to produce a profit-making website" for a financially moribund nation, slyly counterpoint the spectacle back home of an American family, and culture, falling steadily apart. Franzen analyzes these five characters in astonishingly convincing depth, juxtaposing their personal crises and failures against the siren songs of such "corrections" as the useless therapy treatment (based on his own patented invention) that Alfredundergoes, the "uppers" Enid gets from a heartless Doctor Feelgood during a (wonderfully depicted) vacation cruise, and the various panaceas and hustles doled out by the consumer culture Alfred rails against ("Oh, the myths, the childish optimism of the fix"), but is increasingly powerless to oppose. A wide-angled view of contemporary America and its discontents that deserves comparison with Dos Passos's U.S.A., if not with Tolstoy. One of the most impressive American novels of recent years.
Chicago Tribune John Blades
Franzen is an extravagantly talented writer.
Read an Excerpt
The Madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel
it: something terrible was going to happen. The sun low in the sky, a minor
light, a cooling star. Gust after gust of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures
falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end. No children in
the yards here. Shadows lengthened on yellowing zoysia. Red oaks and pin oaks
and swamp white oaks rained acorns on houses with no mortgage. Storm windows
shuddered in the empty bedrooms. And the drone and hiccup of a clothes dryer,
the nasal contention of a leaf blower, the ripening of local apples in a paper
bag, the smell of the gasoline with which Alfred Lambert had cleaned the
paintbrush from his morning painting of the wicker love seat.
Three in the afternoon was a time of danger in these gerontocratic suburbs of
St. Jude. Alfred had awakened in the great blue chair in which he'd been
sleeping since lunch. He'd had his nap and there would be no local news until
five o'clock. Two empty hours were a sinus in which infections, bred. He
struggled to his feet and stood by the Ping-Pong table, listening in vain for
Ringing throughout the house was an alarm bell that no one but Alfred and
Enid could hear directly. It was the alarm bell of anxiety. It was like one of
those big cast-iron dishes with an electric clapper that send schoolchildren
into the street in fire drills. By now it had been ringing for so many hours
that the Lamberts no longer heard the message of "bell ringing" but, as with any
sound that continues for so long that you have the leisure to learn its
component sounds (as with any word you stare at until it resolves itself into a
string of dead letters), instead heard a clapper rapidly striking a metallic
resonator, not a pure tone but a granular sequence of percussions with a keening
overlay of overtones; ringing for so many days that it simply blended into the
background except at certain early-morning hours when one or the other of them
awoke in a sweat and realized that a bell had been ringing in their heads for so
long as they could remember; ringing for so many months that the sound had given
way to a kind of metasound whose rise and fall was not the beating of
compression waves but the much, much slower waxing and waning of their
consciousness of the sound. Which consciousness was particularly acute when
the weather itself was in an anxious mood. Then Enid and Alfred -- she on her
knees in the dining room opening drawers, he in the basement surveying the
disastrous Ping-Pong table -- each felt near to exploding with anxiety.
The anxiety of coupons, in a drawer containing candles in designer autumn
colors. The coupons were bundled in a rubber band, and Enid was realizing that
their expiration dates (often jauntily circled in red by the manufacturer) lay
months and even years in the past: that these hundred-odd coupons, whose total
face value exceeded sixty dollars (potentially one hundred twenty dollars at the
Chiltsville supermarket that doubled coupons), had all gone bad. Tilex, sixty
cents off. Excedrin PM, a dollar off. The dates were not even close. The
dates were historical. The alarm bell had been ringing for years.
She pushed the coupons back in among the candles and shut the drawer. She was
looking for a letter that had come by Registered mail some days ago. Alfred had
heard the mailman knock on the door and had shouted, "Enid! Enid!" so loudly
that he couldn't hear her shouting back, "Al, I'm getting it!" He'd continued to
shout her name, coming closer and closer, and because the sender of the letter
was the Axon Corporation, 24 East Industrial Serpentine, Schwenksville, PA, and
because there were aspects of the Axon situation that Enid knew about and hoped
that Alfred didn't, she'd quickly stashed the letter somewhere within fifteen
feet of the front door. Alfred had emerged from the basement bellowing like a
piece of earth-moving equipment, "There's somebody at the door!" and
she'd fairly screamed, "The mailman! The mailman!" and he'd shaken his head at
the complexity of it all.
Enid felt sure that her own head would clear if only she didn't have to
wonder, every five minutes, what Alfred was up to. But, try as she might, she
couldn't get him interested in life. When she encouraged him to take up his
metallurgy again, he looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. When she asked
whether there wasn't some yard work he could do, he said his legs hurt. When she
reminded him that the husbands of her friends all had hobbies (Dave Schumpert
his stained glass, Kirby Root his intricate chalets for nesting purple finches,
Chuck Meisner his hourly monitoring of his investment portfolio), Alfred acted
as if she were trying to distract him from some great labor of his. And what was
that labor? Repainting the porch furniture? He'd been repainting the love seat
since Labor Day. She seemed to recall that the last time he'd painted the
furniture he'd done the love seat in two hours. Now he went to his workshop
morning after morning, and after a month she ventured in to see how he was doing
and found that all he'd painted of the love seat was the legs.
He seemed to wish that she would go away. He said that the brush had got
dried out, that that was what was taking so long. He said that scraping wicker
was like trying to peel a blueberry. He said that there were crickets. She felt
a shortness of breath then, but perhaps it was only the smell of gasoline and of
the dampness of the workshop that smelled like urine (but could not possibly be
urine). She fled upstairs to look for the letter from Axon.
Six days a week several pounds of mail came through the slot in the front
door, and since nothing incidental was allowed to pile up downstairs -- since
the fiction of living in this house was that no one lived here -- Enid faced a
substantial tactical challenge. She didn't think of herself as a guerrilla, but
a guerrilla was what she was. By day she ferried matériel
from depot to depot, often just a step ahead of the governing force. By night,
beneath a charming but too-dim sconce at a too-small table in the breakfast
nook, she staged various actions: paid bills, balanced checkbooks, attempted to
decipher Medicare copayment records and make sense of a threatening Third Notice
from a medical lab that demanded immediate payment of $0.22 while simultaneously
showing an account balance of $0.00 carried forward and thus indicating that she
owed nothing and in any case offering no address to which remittance might be
made. It would happen that the First and Second Notices were underground
somewhere, and because of the constraints under which Enid waged her campaign
she had only the dimmest sense of where those other Notices might be on any
given evening. She might suspect, perhaps, the family-room closet, but the
governing force, in the person of Alfred, would be watching a network
newsmagazine at a volume thunderous enough to keep him awake, and he had every
light in the family room burning, and there was a non-negligible possibility
that if she opened the closet door a cascade of catalogues and House
Beautifuls and miscellaneous Merrill Lynch statements would come toppling
and sliding out, incurring Alfred's wrath. There was also the possibility that
the Notices would not be there, since the governing force staged random raids on
her depots, threatening to "pitch" the whole lot of it if she didn't take care
of it, but she was too busy dodging these raids to ever quite take care of it,
and in the succession of forced migrations and deportations any lingering
semblance of order was lost, and so the random Nordstrom shopping bag that was
camped behind a dust ruffle with one of its plastic handles semi-detached would
contain the whole shuffled pathos of a refugee existence -- non-consecutive
issues of Good Housekeeping, black-and-white snapshots of Enid in the
1940s, brown recipes on high-acid paper that called for wilted lettuce, the
current month's telephone and gas bills, the detailed First Notice from the
medical lab instructing co-payers to ignore subsequent billings for less than
fifty cents, a complimentary cruise ship photo of Enid and Alfred wearing leis
and sipping beverages from hollow coconuts, and the only extant copies of two of
their children's birth certificates, for example.
Although Enid's ostensible foe was Alfred, what made her a guerrilla was the
house that occupied them both. Its furnishings were of the kind that brooked no
clutter. There were chairs and tables by Ethan Allen. Spode and Waterford in the
breakfront. Obligatory ficuses, obligatory Norfolk pines. Fanned copies of
Architectural Digest on a glass-topped coffee table. Touristic plunder --
enamelware from China, a Viennese music box that Enid out of a sense of duty and
mercy every so often wound up and raised the lid of. The tune was "Strangers in
Unfortunately, Enid lacked the temperament to manage such a house, and Alfred
lacked the neurological wherewithal. Alfred's cries of rage on discovering
evidence of guerrilla actions -- a Nordstrom bag surprised in broad daylight on
the basement stairs, nearly precipitating a tumble -- were the cries of a
government that could no longer govern. He'd lately developed a knack for making
his printing calculator spit columns of meaningless eight-digit figures. After
he devoted the better part of an afternoon to figuring the cleaning woman's
social security payments five different times and came up with four different
numbers and finally just accepted the one number ($635.78) that he'd managed to
come up with twice (the correct figure was $70.00), Enid staged a nighttime raid
on his filing cabinet and relieved it of all tax files, which might have
improved household efficiency had the files not found their way into a Nordstrom
bag with some misleadingly ancient Good Housekeepings concealing the more
germane documents underneath, which casualty of war led to the cleaning woman's
filling out the forms herself, with Enid merely writing the checks and Alfred
shaking his head at the complexity of it all.
It's the fate of most Ping-Pong tables in home basements eventually to serve
the ends of other, more desperate games. After Alfred retired he appropriated
the eastern end of the table for his banking and correspondence. At the western
end was the portable color TV on which he'd intended to watch the local news
while sitting in his great blue chair but which was now fully engulfed by
Good Housekeepings and the seasonal candy tins and baroque but cheaply made
candle holders that Enid never quite found time to transport to the Nearly New
consignment shop. The Ping-Pong table was the one field on which the civil war
raged openly. At the eastern end Alfred's calculator was ambushed by floral
print pot-holders and souvenir coasters from the Epcot Center and a device for
pitting cherries which Enid had owned for thirty years and never used, while he,
in turn, at the western end, for absolutely no reason that Enid could ever
fathom, ripped to pieces a wreath made of pinecones and spray-painted filberts
and brazil nuts.
Copyright © 2001 Jonathan Franzen