In Why We Read What We Read, we talked briefly about Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, using it to illustrate Oprah’s peculiar ways of reading literature. But we never really got to say what a wonderful book it is.
This was unfair. Franzen’s National Book Award winner is one of the best books we read on our bestselling journey, certainly my personal Fiction Top Five. It chronicles the lives of the five members of the Lambert family: stubborn, recalcitrant father Alfred, on a steady Parkinson’s-induced decline; nagging mother Enid, perpetually midwestern and disappointed with her children’s unconventional choices; prosperous son Gary, obsessed with proving how great his life is even as he loses the war against depression and his wife and children’s alliance against him; writer/academic son Chip, whose imprudent dalliances with an undergraduate cost him his career and his dignity; and daughter Denise, a star chef successful in all but the personal arena where she manages to get involved with both her boss and his wife.
Never has a book about so many wretched people been so hilarious. It’s not slapstick, just the perfect turns of phrase, the perfect big hunks of chapters that expose the neuroses and obsessions of these people in all their all-too-realistic glory.