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From Barnes & NobleThe 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)