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The Corrections [NOOK Book]

Overview


Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award
An American Library Association Notable Book

Jonathan Franzen's third novel, The Corrections, is a great work of art and a grandly entertaining overture to our new century: a bold, comic, tragic, deeply moving family drama that stretches from the Midwest at mid-century to Wall...
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The Corrections

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Overview


Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award
An American Library Association Notable Book

Jonathan Franzen's third novel, The Corrections, is a great work of art and a grandly entertaining overture to our new century: a bold, comic, tragic, deeply moving family drama that stretches from the Midwest at mid-century to Wall Street and Eastern Europe in the age of greed and globalism. Franzen brings an old-time America of freight trains and civic duty, of Cub Scouts and Christmas cookies and sexual inhibitions, into brilliant collision with the modern absurdities of brain science, home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare, and the anti-gravity New Economy. With The Corrections, Franzen emerges as one of our premier interpreters of American society and the American soul.

Enid Lambert is terribly, terribly anxious. Although she would never admit it to her neighbors or her three grown children, her husband, Alfred, is losing his grip on reality. Maybe it's the medication that Alfred takes for his Parkinson's disease, or maybe it's his negative attitude, but he spends his days brooding in the basement and committing shadowy, unspeakable acts. More and more often, he doesn't seem to understand a word Enid says.

Trouble is also brewing in the lives of Enid's children. Her older son, Gary, a banker in Philadelphia, has turned cruel and materialistic and is trying to force his parents out of their old house and into a tiny apartment. The middle child, Chip, has suddenly and for no good reason quit his exciting job as a professor at D------ College and moved to New York City, where he seems to be pursuing a "transgressive" lifestyle and writing some sort of screenplay. Meanwhile the baby of the family, Denise, has escaped her disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man--or so Gary hints.

Enid, who loves to have fun, can still look forward to a final family Christmas and to the ten-day Nordic Pleasurelines Luxury Fall Color Cruise that she and Alfred are about to embark on. But even these few remaining joys are threatened by her husband's growing confusion and unsteadiness. As Alfred enters his final decline, the Lamberts must face the failures, secrets, and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.

Winner of the 2001 National Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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)

Francine Prose
Dazzling . . . electric . . . There's something thrilling, heartening, and inspiring about seeing life revealed so accurately, so transparently — and finally, so forgivingly. —O Magazine
Vogue
'Honestly' hype[d] . . . novel of extraordinary merit . . . Franzen's ability to infuse each character with such appealing vulnerability. Which, of course, is the redemptive hat trick of great literature: The Lamberts may be humming with unhappiness, but we are left humming with their — and our own — humanity.
Fortune
The novel of the year.
Stewart O'Nan
Franzen is a wizard, endlessly inventive in his thematic connections and scene setting . . . The Corrections is a wide-open performance showcasing the full range of his skills and his eclectic intelligence . . . [It] recalls no novel so much as John Cheever's The Wapshot Scandal. The Corrections is just as funny and sad and smart as that masterpiece, and Franzen, like Cheever, reminds us of the timelessness of human folly. —Atlantic Monthly
Adam Begley
Agreeably accessible, . . . poised halfway between postmodern chic and plain old-fashioned storytelling. It sucks you into the vortex of family life, the whirling blend of happy and unhappy; it lands you in the sticky goo of mingled love and hate. What Mr. Franzen does — brilliantly — is to risk sentimentality to get at emotional truth. —New York Observer
Poets and Writers
[The Corrections is] Franzen's most autobiographical novel, his most engrossing (do not be surprised to find yourself trying to read it all in one sitting, and, stylistically, his most lyrical. In its gorgeous, sweeping scope and the sympathy of its tone, it owes more to Tolstoy than to Pynchon, but ultimately the novel offers up pleasures that are utterly Franzenian; a sense of exhilaration permeates The Corrections, which is, in part, the exhilaration of a writer who has broken free of his masters.
Time
What we're asking is whether Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections will become that rare thing, a literary work that everybody's reading? A lot of people are saying yes.
New York Times Book Review
We were rocking: I only put the book down again when my life needed tending to . . . I can't scrape together much outrage when I'm basically having a good time . . . If you don't end up liking each one of Franzen's people, you probably just don't like people . . . It's often the microfelicities that keep you barreling through The Corrections toward its larger satisfactions. Wordplay worthy of Nabokov . . . Tiny, revelatory gestures . . . Magically precise images . . . Knowing one-liners . . . Franzen writes with convincing authority about the minutiae of railroads, clothing, medicine, economics, industry, cuisine, and Eastern European politics, and he knows just when to push his conceits over the top . . . But he also knows his way around more intimate territory . . . No one book, of course, can provide everything we want in a novel. But a book as strong as The Corrections seems ruled only by its own self-generated aesthetic: it creates the illusion of giving a complete account of a world, and while we're under its enchantment it temporarily eclipses whatever else we may have read. But I guess that is everything we want in a novel — except, when it's rocking along, for it never to be over. In that respect, The Corrections ends as disappointingly as it began. And in that respect only.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Let's not mince words or pussyfoot with fancy lit-crit lingo. This is a great book. It needs to be read . . . A panoramic work that frequently zeroes in, with almost claustrophobic clarity, on human foibles . . . A huge, ambititious, powerful, funny, imaginative yet realistic novel. This book is a gift.
Boston Globe
A big, showy powerhouse of a novel, revved up with ideas but satisfyingly beholden to the traditions of character and plot . . . Smart and boisterous and beautifully paced . . . Franzen's epic study in irony suggests Wolfe running into Don DeLillo . . . The greatest strength of The Corrections, and there are many, is its skillful narrative relativism, the way it delivers one version of the truth about a character, then fleshes out that reality over time into something larger and more complex . . . His rendering [of the autumnal prairie of millennial America] is frighteningly, luminously authentic.
the Dallas Morning News
[Combines] the deadpan dazzle and intricate ironies of Don DeLillo with the more homey concerns of Anne Tyler . . . There is bravura writing here, wizardly wordplay, sharp insights.
Miami Herald
Wonderously devastating . . . In prose that is by turns suspenseful, brooding, and, oh yes, compassionate, Franzen unrolls the huge, bleak panorama of the Lamberts' past and present lives, their temptations, failures, mistakes and false hopes, their intimate acquaintance with the hot flash of selfishness and the sharp bitterness of rue.
Portland Oregonian
Remarkable . . . The best comparisons are to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Don DeLillo's Underworld . . . but The Corrections has more heart.
Raleigh News and Observer
A big, intelligent and mostly compassionate novel that's so much fun one hates to see it end . . . A novel of our times . . . Think of the book as a blend of postmodern meganovel and Victorian family saga.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The best American novel published to date this year.
Newsweek
The last 100 pages of The Corrections is an unforgettably sad, indelibly beautiful piece of literature . . . [Franzen] is a writer with talent to burn.
Book Magazine
Franzen's third novel—his first in almost a decade—is not only the author's funniest and most focused work, it also hits harder and deeper. Not unlike 1988's The Twenty-Seventh City and 1992's Strong Motions, The Corrections presents a microcosm of a modern culture that has gone horribly wrong. It describes a world controlled by vectors of conspiracy where political, economic and media powers merge; it is a place beset by moral contradictions too troubling to acknowledge, let alone resolve. Between the mood swings of a haywire stock market and the neuroses of a society eager to extend the pill-popping effectiveness of Zoloft, Franzen combines the satirist's eye with a tragic soul. He's the novelist as social prophet, master of insidious plausibility.

The Corrections features the Lamberts of St. Jude ("patron saint of lost causes"), who have found themselves psychospiritually adrift between the traditional rectitude of Midwestern repression and the anything-goes emptiness of technological progress. As the rest of the country turns increasingly giddy over the economy, it seems that only the Lamberts are bottoming out. The family patriarch, Alfred, is a retired railroad executive (his company has consolidated, his industry is dying) suffering from Parkinson's disease. His dutiful wife, Enid—oblivious to some essential truths about her relationships with her husband and her children—can't provide the care he needs, but she despairs over any suggestion that they sell the family home. It's too late for assisted living, she insists: "Those places won't let you in if you have a condition like Dad's." Caught in the Catch-22 of elderly care, she pins all ofher hopes on a cruise that her husband is in no condition to take, while pleading for a Christmas reunion in St. Jude with the kids, a traditional celebration that none of them is likely to enjoy.

For the three dysfunctional Lambert offspring, family life is a series of power plays. Banker Gary, the oldest son, denies that he's suffering from clinical depression, while his wife indulges their children, following the rules in her copy of Hands-Off Parenting: Skills for the Next Millennium. Chip, the middle child, lost his professorship after a student seduced him, and now he must reconcile his contempt for money with his discomfort at having so little of it. Denise, the baby, is a celebrity chef who sees sexual appetite as an illness (for Chip, sex is more like medication) and is more concerned with others' needs than her own.

Amid a society addicted to the quick fix, there seem to be no easy answers to the Lamberts' problems. But it is the marketing of a mind-altering drug called Corecktall (not to be confused with a similarly named laxative) that promises a transformation beyond their dreams. It could provide a cure for Alfred (who may have played some part in the drug's development, though Franzen lets this subplot hang), while offering an investment opportunity upon which Gary is eager to pounce.

Spending an afternoon on the sidelines at the Corecktall investors' convention, Gary vacillates between envy and contempt. "Just a few years ago the room would have been a jungle of blue pinstripe, ventless Mafiawear, two-tone power shirts and tasseled loafers. But now, in the late maturing years of the long, long boom, even young suburban galoots from New Jersey were buying hand-tailored Italian suits and high-end eyewear. So much money had flooded the system that twenty-six-year-olds who thought Andrew Wyeth was a furniture company and Winslow Homer a cartoon character were able to dress like Hollywood aristocracy.... All around him, millions of newly minted American millionaires were engaged in the identical pursuit of feeling extraordinary."

Blurring the line between the preposterous and the inevitable, Franzen maintains a deadpan tone throughout the book. He details Chip's involvement in the transformation of Lithuania into an international investment racket, capitalizing on its "huge strategic reserves of sand and gravel." He explores Denise's relationship with a man who is financing the film Crime and Punishment and Rock and Roll ("Raskolnikov in headphones, listening to Trent Reznor while he whacks the old lady, is so perfect," gushes a guest at a private screening). And he details the horrors of the talking excrement that haunts Alfred on the cruise ship Gunnar Myrdal.

For all of its slick surface, society as depicted by Franzen is so diseased that a novel is even less likely to cure its ills than a pill called Corecktall. As Alfred anticipates the fate that awaits us all, the narrator observes that "death ceased to be the enforcer of finitude and began to look, instead, like the last opportunity for radical transformation, the only possible portal to the infinite." Yet, against considerable odds, Franzen finds a happy ending of sorts, as each of his characters makes—if not a correction—at least some sort of accommodation, coming to know themselves and one another a little bit better in the process.
—Don McCleese

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher
"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 Review of Books

"Marvelous . . . Everything we want in a novel—except, when it's rocking along, for it never to be over."—The New York Times Book Review

"Jonathan Franzen has built a powerful novel out of the swarming consciousness of a marriage, a family, a whole culture—our culture."—Don DeLillo

"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."—San Francisco Chronicle

"The novel we've been waiting for...a stunning anatomy of family dysfunction...a contemporary novel that will endure."—Esquire

"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."—Michael Cunningham

"Frighteningly, luminously authentic."—The Boston Globe

"A genuine masterpiece . . . This novel is a wisecracking, eloquent, heartbreaking beauty."—Elle

"The brightest, boldest, and most ambitious novel I've read in many years."—Pat Conroy

"Brilliant . . . Almost unbearably lifelike."—The New York Observer

"Funny and deeply sad, large-hearted and merciless, The Corrections is a testament to the range and depth of pleasures great fiction affords."—David Foster Wallace

"This is a spellbinding novel . . . that is both funny and piercing."—People

Chicago Tribune - John Blades
Franzen is an extravagantly talented writer.
Chicago Tribune
Franzen is an extravagantly talented writer.

— John Blades

GQ
More engaging and readable than other chilly magnum opuses in the same league . . . Unlike his Big Book peers, [Franzen] wants things tidy — not in the middle, maybe, but at the end. The chaos-theory math wizards of antimatter fiction don't often show such good manners, such politeness, and it's touching to find it here. Not just dazzle —warmth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429928618
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/15/2001
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 27,673
  • File size: 583 KB

Meet the Author

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is the author of Freedom, selected for Oprah’s Book Club, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In 1996, he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. The Corrections won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer and Pen/Faulkner. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California.

Biography

Until his award-winning novel The Corrections was published in the fall of 2001, Jonathan Franzen was probably best known for a somewhat dyspeptic 1996 essay he wrote for Harper's entitled "Perchance to Dream." In it, Franzen decried the state of modern American fiction and, by association, that of his own career.

Part of Franzen's frustration may have stemmed from the reception of his first two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992). Although both books showcased his formidable literary skills and earned respectful praise from critics, neither one sold well. He won a Whiting Writer's Award for City and, in 1997, the British literary magazine Granta named him one of the 20 best American novelists under the age of 40. Still, major recognition seemed to elude him.

All that changed with The Corrections, a sprawling tale of American family dysfunction that was immediately acclaimed a "postmodern masterpiece." At long last, Franzen had found his voice, emerging from the pressure of trying to emulate his literary heroes Don DeLillo and William Gaddis. The New York Times Book Review called the novel "marvelous"; The New York Observer called it "brilliant"; and the Boston Globe called it "smart and boisterous and beautifully paced." In short, The Corrections put Franzen on the literary map.

A month later, Franzen's star lost some of its luster, when he became embroiled in a public relations fiasco. Kingmaker Oprah Winfrey selected The Corrections for her popular Book Club, but when the author expressed his discomfort with the endorsement, the show quickly withdrew its certification. A vilified Franzen hastened to explain himself, the book was re-Oprahcized -- and in a final salvo, Franzen wrote about the entire experience in a widely read New Yorker piece that only served to compound the controversy. As the line from his book goes, "What made corrections possible also doomed them." No matter; what Franzen lost in Oprah's esteem he gained in untold sales from the publicity, and The Corrections went on to win the National Book Award.

In 2002, a collection of Franzen's cultural criticism (including the famous Oprah piece and a reworked version of "Perchance to Dream") appeared under the title How to Be Alone, reaffirming his status as a writer of elegant nonfiction; and in 2006, he forayed into memoir with The Discomfort Zone, a self-lacerating look at his youth, his family, and the forces that shaped him into a writer.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1958
    2. Place of Birth:
      Western Springs, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Swarthmore College, 1981; studied as a Fulbright scholar at Freie Universität in Berlin
    2. Website:

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 Enid.

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 the Night."

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

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Table of Contents

1
A TOUR OF THE BOOK: an overview of the book
Home for the Holidays: The Corrections ditches mistletoe and yuletide cheer for Baltic mobsters, talking turds, and drug-smuggling housewives. 21
JOURNEYS: the characters and their stories
The Corrections We Make: Franzen shows us how each of our lives is a series of corrections-our attempts to correct the faults of our parents and the mistakes of our pasts. 31
POINTS OF VIEW: a conversation about The Corrections
Bringing It All Back Home: Looking past the media storm, what do readers of The Corrections really think about the novel? 49
A WRITER'S LIFE: Jonathan Franzen's story
Resurrecting the Great Novel: Franzen worked his way into the heart of the American literary scene with his fiction, his essays, and his stated goal of writing the next Great American Novel. 53
THE WORLD OUTSIDE: the Lamberts' 1990s America
Keeping Up With the Lamberts: From St. Jude to Manhattan, Lithuania to a cruise ship, Franzen's characters can't escape the great American rat race. 57
A BRIEF HISTORY: the critics respond to The Corrections
The Oprah Wars
The Corrections brought Franzen fame and fortune-and a ten-round grudge match with the most powerful woman in media. 61
EXPLORE: Other Books of Interest
Books to consider reading next: In writing The Corrections and his earlier novels, Franzen has turned to a number of American literary giants for inspiration.
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Reading Group Guide

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, an unflinchingly honest yet ultimately redemptive chronicle of an American family. We hope they will help you approach the complex story of the Lamberts, which takes a hard look at the role of family in contemporary society and questions the effects of materialism in late-twentieth century America.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 461 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(141)

4 Star

(107)

3 Star

(72)

2 Star

(50)

1 Star

(91)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 461 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Pretentiously Written, Depressing, Unlikeable Characters

    I suppose it's a reflection of my bourgeois middlebrow tastes that I didn't just hate this book but thought it badly written--Pulitzer Prize Finalist or not. It's one of those novels with an omniscient narrative with lots of Post-Modernist Stylistic Touches that Examines The Human Condition(tm)--in other words a pretentious, depressing work with unlikeable characters and turgid prose. The kind of book where paragraphs can go on for more than a page and single sentences, kept aloft with slashes, parenthesis, colons and semi-colons almost as long. (See, page 11, 17.) One with irritating affectations like referring to a fictitious school as "D-- College." (God, just make up a name already.)

    Every once in a while I did think there were flashes of brilliance (which is why it gets more than one star). Such as how in Part One, Enid and Alfred, an elderly Midwestern couple, are characterized through their possessions. Or in Part Two how their son Chip translates the subtext of his mother's quizzing of his girlfriend.

    However, not even the satiric tones could make Chip's self-absorbed academic musings bearable--maybe Franzen did that too well--I had flashbacks to the worst of my politically correct college professors. Franzen's depiction of Yuppiehood in New York City wasn't any more appealing. (And I say that as a proud native New Yorker who usually loves to see my city depicted.) I lasted till the end of the second part at page 134 because I wanted to give such a raved-about book a fair shot. By then I knew there was no way I was going to last all the way to the end at page 566 without taking it out on some innocent bystander.

    29 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    must read

    Alfred Lambert was the patriarch and the disciplinarian of a family of five. However, he now suffers ignobly from Parkinson's disease and has plenty of elder care needs. His spouse Enid wants to remain loyal to her long time mate and provider, or at least her memory of him. However, she feels more like a hostage to his sickness though choosing to ignore his illness and dream about anything more uplifting to care about. <P>Their only daughter Denise begins a job in a hip bistro in Philadelphia. However, she puts her work in jeopardy when she begins an affair with her boss¿ spouse. The oldest son Gary struggles with depression. With the help of his wife he steps closer to the abyss of a breakdown. The youngest son Chip loses his academic job due to a student. He almost loses his life next on some fraudulent scheme in Europe. The Lambert brood appears all ready to self-destruct and yet each one keeps alive in their heart a glimmer of hope for a better future. <P>THE CORRECTIONS is a humorous yet extremely serious look at an American family against a backdrop of the world scene. The story line is bitter, melancholy, and yet somehow manages to be optimistic as well. Each member of the Lambert brood is a genuine individual struggling to cope with life. Though harsh in many respects, humor keeps the novel from becoming too maudlin. Jonathan Franzen, who writes a novel every decade or so, shows why he is one of the best authors with this must read classic look at the American way of life. <P>Harriet Klausner

    17 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Glad I don't know these people.

    Not much plot and depressing characters.

    9 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book is certainly unlike any other I've read, which I find refreshing. I agree with several other reviewers in how unlikable several of the characters are-- but I don't find that to be distracting, maybe a little unrealistic. What I enjoy about this book is that it is a challenging read-- I get very annoyed with books that assume I won't see through the obvious metaphors and sentimental fluff. This certainly doesn't do that- however, I do think this author thinks too much of his own intellect. His forays into his characters' lives do little to keep my interest-- I found myself skipping entire paragraphs several times, and questioning the importance of his detailed descriptions of the Lithuanian saga, incidental characters on the cruise ship, and yes, the talking terd. It was here that I felt the author's arrogance made itself pretty apparent-- shocking for the sake of being shocking and nothing else. I was greatly disappointed on that front as it truly detracted from the book's merit. For the most part though, Franzen has an astonishing control and balance in his writing. I found myself awed at times at how accurate and believable his descriptions were without insulting my intelligence. This is a truly gifted writer who unfortunately, it all too aware of his gift.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Difficult at times, but worth it

    The first 15-20 pages of this book are the most boring, tedious, and grueling. However, good news, the book becomes more accessible and enjoyable after that. In this book more than many others I have read, I felt as though I really knew all of the main characters (except maybe Chip, he seemed a little hollow and unrealistic by the end). Franzen really breathes life into every person of the Lampbert family. At times, the book took a little work and was heavily riddled with thick metaphors, but in the end, they are all worth it and only give the reader a further look into the lives and minds of the characters. I would suggest this book to almost anyone who had some determination to get through some of the thicker sections. The end is much more moving than I expected, probably because by then I had such deep understanding and sympathies for the characters. It was interesting, entertaining, and gave an intimate view of an average mid-west family.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    Confused

    Why is the ebook more then the actual book????????? An actual book I can pass around to multiple friends for unlimited time and then sell/donate/use to make a fire. The ebook is worthless after reading it. Makes me regret my nook purchase.

    6 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2001

    Ignore all reviews that give this less than 2 stars

    Ever since Jonathan Franzen spoke out against his book being chosen as an Oprah Book Club Selection, his rating has dropped at an unbelievable rate. Wonder why??? I have been around and read many books in my life and I am 100% serious when I say that you can without a doubt ignore any review below two stars, because it probably came from an angry Oprah fan. This book is incredible!!! It has wonderful writing, the most in-depth characters I've ever had the pleasure to read about, very witty sarcasm, and incredible references to some very obscure but profound events in history. I apologize to anyone offended, but I think that this book was a bad selection for Oprah's club, because it is well beyond what her average viewer wants or understands. It deserved the National Book Award and should go down as one of the best books of the last ten years.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Corrections

    Jayln Havill
    The book, "The Corrections", tragicomedy novel written by Jonathan Franzen, scrutinizes the way of society while telling a story of a mother trying to get her broken family together again. In this novel, Franzen uses his characters Enid, Alfred and their children Gary, Chip, and Denise as "puppets" to get many different points across in this novel. Franzen lays the pretensions, greed, self-deceptions, insecurities and folly of the Lamberts, and the greater culture, as he tells of how they believe the quick-fix comforts and profitability of today's technology based world, and avoid all accountability for himself or herself or a neighbor. Franzen gets very political in this novel and yet tells a good, interesting story.
    Franzen uses very interesting style, going from flashbacks to the present to help identify meaning in the present. For example in the first part of the book, he constantly goes back in Chip's past and retells situations so we are better able to understand the situation going on in the present. What is also interesting about his style is that he is telling a story of a broken family while still getting a political point across. What is also interesting in Franzen's writing is how he foreshadows. For example: when Chip and Melissa go to pick up drugs from a high school friend, there is a sticker that reminds him of the "Midland Pacific Lines" logo, where later in the novel, we learn that his father used to work for Midland Pacific Lines. It is just interesting how he ties in all of those little details to make the novel even more interesting.
    Each character has a different story to learn from. Gary, who is a very unhappy, paranoid businessman doesn't want to admit that he is like his father, who is clinically depressed. He tries to take antidepressants to steer away of having to admit he is depressed. But in the end, he does end up like his father. Also, Chip, who has enough problems to cover his whole family, we learn that you just can't keep running away from your problems, it results in things just getting worse.
    There are many different themes that you can receive from this book. You get the message that there is always hope. We get this message because throughout the whole book, we are told of how the Lamberts' lives just aren't the best, but yet Franzen still shows a glimmer of hope. Like when Enid says there is a "strange yearning sense of possibility". It seems like each character has a different story to learn from. Gary, who is a very unhappy, paranoid businessman doesn't want to admit that he is like his father, who is clinically depressed. He tries to take antidepressants to steer away of having to admit he is depressed. But in the end, he does end up like his father. Also, Chip, who has enough problems to cover his whole family, we learn that you just can't keep running away from your problems, it results in things just getting worse.
    I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy a challenge. You should probably be good at your economic skills and have an open mind while reading "The Corrections". This book can get complicated to read with all of the flashbacks Franzen writes, but as long as you take the time to read it slowly, you won't be disappointed.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2007

    Life doesn't always have plot

    To me this book was less about the plot and more about the struggles the characters face in going through their lives. It's not necessarily the best book I've read, but once I began this novel and understood the backrounds of each character and their personalities 'which the author goes into great detail describing' it became easier to accept that the plot drags on into nothingness 'sort of'. because life doesn't always have a plot or moral like the fairy tales of our childhood, it's just lived and the experiences are just experienced, and yet the characters grow and change and go through real emotions with everything. It's a good novel to read if you're willing to take a chance to understand how the characters progression and changes through the novel form the story.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2002

    Ignore Idiots who Trash This Book

    I was so shocked to read the harsh criticism from other readers that I felt compelled to disclose my view. This book is an absolute gem. No need for me to expatiate. Read this book. I'm convinced that there was some movement afoot among Oprah lovers to bash this book as retaliation over the author's snub of the cheesy talk-show personality.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Franzen has the unique gift of creating characters that are so outrageously diverse and spellbinding. He, like John Irving, Anne Tyler and John Steinbeck, draw the reader right into his characters' lives and when the last chapter is read, you're sorry to see it go. Outstanding!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2001

    I'm Confused !!

    I bought this book without hesitation after Mr. Franzen upset Oprah. I figured that anybody willing to tell her to go fly a kite would get my money. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book at all. I found it long, wordy, and not very interesting. In fact, I couldn't even finish it. Yet, many of the reviews here and elsewhere have praised it a great deal so maybe I will take another shot at it down the road. My wife is going to read it and if she thinks it's good, I'll try again for sure. One of the 'standards' I use for basic reading enjoyment is how anxious I am to get back to it. I'll take it with me and read a chapter here, a paragraph there, sit down in the evening and read for awhile, etc. With this book, I went an entire weekend without even an inkling of desire to pick it up. Sorry, Mr. Franzen. Maybe I'm being unfair but I don't think so.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    I did not like this book.

    It was difficult to follow and the characters were unbelievable and unlikable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    "The Corrections" was a very good but depressing read

    &quot;The Corrections&quot; was a very good but depressing read about a family trying to live their individual lives and maintain a semblance of a relationship as a family. Alfred is an abrasive, aging father who is diagnosed with Parkinson's and is unhappy in his retirement time. Enid is Alfred's wife, and is miserable and unfulfilled living with Alfred, in denial about his disease progression, and extremely critical of her three children, Gary, Denise, and Chip. Gary, the oldest of the three children, is in a constant battle with his wife about mental health issues. Denise, the youngest and only daughter, is in denial about her personal life as well as struggling with her position as a successful chef. Chip is a struggling screenplay writer who was fired from his job as an assistant professor at a college because of some questionable activity he was involved in.

    Jonathan Franzen is an excellent writer, and while I did enjoy this depressing read, I felt like the book was a little long (565 pages). However, I wasn't as disturbed by the length in &quot;The Corrections&quot; as I was when reading another book by Franzen, &quot;Freedom.&quot; I thought &quot;Freedom&quot; could have been shortened and still been a good book, while with &quot;The Corrections&quot; I think the length suited the book.

    All in all, I'd recommend (as would Oprah, as the book is on her book club list) this book to people who like to read and can stand a long, slightly depressing novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great character study of a modern dysfunctional family.

    What happens to a family when the matriarch makes her husband the scapegoat for her unhappiness? Her husband retreats and she drives her children away. And her children in turn manifest their own frstrations in varied ways, trying always to correct for the imperfections and mistakes of themselves and their parents. By turns humorous and tragic, I laughed and winced at Franzen's excellent character studies of all members of a dysfunctional, modern family. These characters will evoke recognition of someone in your own family, or someone you know, and you will remeber them long after you finish the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2011

    Loved it!

    This book is a brilliantly written and it seems Mr.Franzen put a lot of thought behind each word, sentence and theme to the book. I don't understand why or what people expect when clearly this book is intelligent and a thrill to finally read something that isn't written just because they need to put out a book for their contract. I also find it insightful and implicable in exlplaning life's
    undercurrent , the vibe of everyday living. I know that Oprah's books are not popular with serious readers, but if people who are intelligent and love literary books such as her picks and
    can relate to it's theme, it allows the experience of reading more enjoyable. I feel so bad that Mr.Franzen has received a bad rap with his books when the are pure genius! Honestly, it can't get any better than his books. It's like a secret club of people who enjoy his work. Well done Mr. Franzen.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2011

    Amazing

    I would like to hear some recommendations from those who have negatively reviewed this book. Really.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 30, 2010

    Highly, Highly Recommended

    While Franzen cannot take the place of Steinbeck in my mind, he is my favorite author. His skills are amazing and I must compare them to Steinbeck's abilities. I wanted to read Freedom and I hesitated to read The Corrections, however, Franzen blew me away with both of them.

    If you want insight into individual and social issues, you must read both books. I love Franzen's writing. I hope he publishes another book but I do want time to reread both of these.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2010

    You'll love and hate the family!

    Excellent read! Seems like people will either love or hate this book. I guarantee that you'll love AND hate all the characters at the same time! Excellent work of fiction and a good view of human nature! Not sure why people would not like this book. It does not drag out ever. The pace is set well. Many of the antics of the family are quite funny. It is sad, though, to follow the decline of one of the characters who is suffering from Parkinson's.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2007

    What was the point?

    When the author starts describing each character in detail, you think he wants you to understand the characters for something that happens later in the story. but no, he just describes them, and then the book ends. I dont know if it's supposed to be intellectual to read a book that has no twist, no story, no ending, no conclusion. but it's definitely not for me. its just another of the overhyped, oprahyped books. please do not read this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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