Sunday, May 11, 2008

(Not) Recommended: The Corrections

Kyle, previously/currently of Eight Parts and newly of The Letter Eleven regarding his new twin girls (hey, Kyle, what's up with the numbers in your blog names??), recommended that I read The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

I completed reading it several months ago, but I've had a lot of trouble writing about it. At its most basic, the storyline is about a older midwestern couple that are trying to figure out how best to interact with their three children and the life choices they've made, choices that mostly go against everything that a midwestern family would have considered valuable. On the other side of things, the book is long enough to explore each character's complicated motivations for the way they interact with their family. There's the dad, who had been the breadwinner as an engineer and now is in failing health. He isn't sure how to connect with the family that he provided for, but was otherwise mostly uninvolved with for his whole life. There is the overinvolved mom, whose entire life is in the memories she built with her family in their midwestern house that is falling apart. If she gives in to the failing house, her life must be a failure, too, and you can see the struggle as her ailing husband has more and more trouble in that house. There's the oldest son who is fighting depression in a relationship that hasn't been supportive for years. His own kids have been largely turned against him during this time. He wants to support his parents, but only in the way that he deems best. The middle child, a daughter, ran to the big city to become a famous chef, married a much older man and had a closeted (to her family, at least) lesbian affair. She seems to be the only of the kids that actually sees her parents as people with real feelings, and wants to help them where they are and with whatever makes them most comfortable. Finally, there's the youngest son whose near addiction to sex got him in some trouble in his last job, making him reckless with new opportunities that come his way. After enough badgering, he puts on a show of caring about his parents, but almost in a my-life-is-such-a-mess-and-you've-got-a-place-I-can-sleep sort of way.

I can't say I really liked this story. It was so bleak (some may say realistic), and depressingly sad, not cathartic-emotional-outbreak-sad, that I can't really recommend it. Originally my title had been meant to indicate that the book had been recommended to me, but I realized it could also be taken to mean that I recommended it, so that's why you have what you have instead. The characters were incredibly realistic, the individual stories were each heartbreaking in their own way, but I just came away with this overall sad feeling for the way that we move on and ignore the people we came from that I can't say it was enjoyable. I just keep coming back to "bleak". If you've forgotten what that feeling feels like, please, by all means, use this book to remind yourself. Otherwise, just try to respect your elders and continue on with your life.


mr. kyle said...

Well, I'm glad you read it. I'm confident you're a better person for having done so. I can't disagree with much of your review, save to say that what you saw as bleak I saw as brilliant and in it's own way hopeful. I think that really great fiction works best when the reader recognizes little pieces and says, oh my god, someone else thinks this? Someone else has felt or experienced this? When it gets at things that are somewhat universal, even if they're painful, and I think that's a revelation and in some ways a comfort to people. I've had several people talk to me about the portrait of depression laid out in the book and how it hit home for them in a way that was at once painful and relieving.

Bottom line, one of my favorite books, and one of the best written I've read. You're not alone in not having enjoyed it, but you read it anyway, and that makes you super.

You should start future blind dates by asking what people thought of the corrections and you'll know right way if you're on the same page.

Heather said...

I can see how if you identify with one or more of the characters closely that you could come away with an almost hopeful view that you're not along. Thanks for recommending it to me. It will likely stick with me, even if I didn't really enjoy it.

stephanie said...

WHEW! Take that one off my "to read" list! :)