Monday, 4 April 2011

Plain Vanilla Closeness: A Review of 'The Corrections' by Jonathan Franzen

At the end of the day I like to read soothing balm for the frazzled mind, such as Rebus or Wallander stories. But occasionally I stumble upon what I call a real book. A brilliantly written book that has depth and texture, with layers of meaning that resonate within me. Jonathan Franzen’ s The Corrections is one such book.

Like so many great books, The Corrections is about families in all their loving madness. It is the story of Enid and Alfred Lambert, living in St. Jude, Iowa, and their three grown up children, who are not really so very grown up, living their screwed-up lives scattered across America. Enid is a worrier and frets over just about everything, while Alfred is slowly losing his mind to Parkinson’s disease. The storyline is surprisingly simple: Enid wants to have one last family Christmas together before Alfred sinks totally into the dark recesses of dementia.

What makes The Corrections so powerful is the way Franzen weaves together the lives of all five Lamberts, jumping from one family story to another, overlapping, backtracking and interweaving their lives so that you gradually understand and enter into their lives. Franzen manages to do this amazing juggling act of storylines by writing that is quite simply brilliant: at times Henry James-type sentences that meander over two pages but always come back home; sometimes short, sharp declarative sentences that catch your breath; and always an honesty of observation that certainly resonated with my family life. Infusing all of his writing is a poetry of words, a use of metaphor that makes you think, “How did he do that?!” and a thread of empathetic (and at times dark) humour running throughout the book.

One poignant passage sticks in my mind. Enid decides that she and Alfred should take a cruise. While Enid works hard at socialising, Alfred, slipping further into dementia, falls overboard. “Alfred was remembering the nights he’d sat upstairs with one or both of his boys or with his girl in the crook of his arm, their damp bath-smelling heads hard against his ribs as he read aloud to them. How his voice alone, its palpable resonance, had made them drowsy. These were evenings, and there were hundreds of them, when nothing traumatic enough to leave a scar had befallen the nuclear unit. Evenings of plain vanilla closeness in his black leather chair; sweet evenings of doubt between the nights of bleak certainty. They came to him now, these forgotten counterexamples, because in the end, when you were falling into water, there was no solid thing to reach for but your children.”

“Evenings of plain vanilla closeness…” Wow! Review © John Cole 2011

1 comment:

  1. An enjoyable read The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen . loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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