The Corrections Review
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When someone actually turns down an Oprah book club choice (which tends to tremendously increase book sales), it makes me perk up my ears and be curious about the book. If that’s what Franzen wanted, he achieved it: with me, at least. I bought the book and thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter, thinking, Wow! This is worth the controversy!

Then I proceeded to the next chapter—and got stuck for the next approximately hundred pages. It took hard work and a lot of determination, but I made it through those grueling pages. And then I did finish the remaining four-hundred-some pages relatively quickly after that (it helped being stuck on a plane for nine hours). If anything, I felt like the end pulled together too quickly, not giving you time to reflect or
remember all the carefully set out characterization from earlier on in the novel.

The novel is about the Lambert family: Alfred and Enid, the elderly midwestern parents of grown-up east-coast children Gary, Chip, and Denise. The story is about the relationship among the loosely connected family, both in the past and present. The primary question is how the family is going to deal with what’s happening to Alfred, the patriarch, who’s contracted Parkinson’s disease. Each of the children, ensconced in their busy lives, has a different opinion of what he or she thinks should be done about it and level of willingness to do something about it.

It’s an excellent description of modern inter-generational communication and lack thereof, of modern familial disconnectedness and misconceptions. The problem for me as a reader stemmed from how disconnected the characters seemed to be from each other. Franzen spent about a third of the novel characterizing each of the children, and they lived such separate lives—and each had such ingrained opinions of the rest of the family that I got sucked into each time I was “with” one of them—that it felt like a terrible jolt to move from one person’s life to the other. (The one I got stuck on was Chip, by the way. I had issues with Chip.) And by the time I’d moved on it was hard to connect the details of the family’s individual histories.

All in all, unless you’re a patient person in a particularly patient mood, this book just might be worth skipping. The moments of brilliance are there, but the frustration may not be worth the time spent.

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