I used to think I’d have to root for at least one character in a story in order to enjoy a work of fiction. The character could be an anti-hero, even a truly evil person who makes a turn for the better around the story’s mid-point. Just give me a scrap of likeability and I’ll lap it up if the writing is good.
But Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections gave me an entire family of persistently miserable creatures. These people aren’t just flawed—they’re morally depraved, shallow, greedy, weak-willed, manipulative. Sometimes what makes reading about and despising characters like the Lamberts so jarring and titillating is simultaneously recognizing glimmers of yourself in their despicability. And that’s what makes this book such a great read. Its honesty is naked and raw. The lack of a true hero and the bluntness of the family’s prejudices and meanness may be unpleasant, but it’s also real. When I read the thoughts of the characters I sometimes wondered if the author had tapped into the undercurrent of my thoughts–the unfortunate things I whisper in my mind when I think I’m not listening. Franzen taps into the modern American consciousness and, with his seemingly effortless way with words, puts its bad face to pen and paper.
The Corrections broaches so many topics: consumerism, sexual repression and expression, the decline of rural America. At the base of it all is the family struggle—the clash between eras, the rejection of childhood and disgust with aging. I felt like a therapist puzzling together the pieces of my patients’ lifetimes to find the root of the evil possessing them. Their personal problems and relationships were so compelling, I couldn’t put the book down even as I ground my teeth to a fine dust.
I think you should read this book. Yes, I think you should brace yourself for discomfort, big laughs, seething sessions, frustration and the kind of deep satisfaction that comes with clarity.