The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Well, what is going to stay with me forever is the you’re-not-leaving-this-table-until-you-clean-that-plate scene. Good Lord.
When I was 8 or 9 I had a friend named Sandra, whose parents raised rabbits for food and who told their children not to get attached. Like that’s within the realm of possibility. And when they learned that Sandra had gotten attached, as a little girl could almost be counted on to do, and had actually named the rabbit she’d gotten attached to, why, they chose to teach her a lesson and butcher and serve that particular rabbit, on an evening when I happened to be a dinner-and-sleepover guest. It was horrific. Having guest status, I was not forced to eat what I’d been dished up (which I would not have anyway out of solidarity if not revulsion), but I did not rank highly enough to be given anything else to eat either, and was banished to Sandra’s room in the basement while her parents invoked the you-will-sit-there-until-you eat-that mandate for their daughter. I could hear Sandra weeping a floor above while I cowered and cried and tried to figure how I could sneak to the phone and call my mom to come get me and not be forever damned as a shitty friend. Sandra was eventually allowed to leave the table and we spent a hungry night together, but the following morning her parents employed their reserve food torture, that of serving for breakfast, cold, whatever dinner a kid hadn’t eaten the night before. Sandra was still sitting at the breakfast table, plateful of cold furry friend covered with shiny congealed grease in front of her and tears streaming down her face, her bacon-and-eggs-fed siblings bustling around doing the dishes and sweeping the floor and pretending Sandra wasn’t there while no doubt inwardly rejoicing that they weren’t her, when my dad arrived to take me home. I’ve been glad, relieved, overjoyed to see my dad lots of times in my life, but that was one of the top ones. My parents never let me spend the night at Sandra’s house again, although she was welcome at ours. I lost track of her after my family moved away, but I’d bet an entire paycheck that incident got hefty attention in some therapist’s office years down the line. I myself get nauseated at the thought of eating rabbit to this day, and I was only a peripheral casualty. I mean, what in the actual fuck kind of people do that to their children?
Well, Sandra’s parents, obviously. (Hi, Nancy and Ken! Yes, I still remember your names.) And Alfred and Enid Lambert as well. The Revenge Dinner scene in The Corrections exemplifies exactly why each of the Lambert kids turned out so warped. Not that I liked Chip; I didn’t. As other reviewers have noted, pretty much every character we meet is despicable. Alfred is a bullying asshole. Chip is an overeducated, arty-farty fuckup. Gary is Mr. Plastic, with the perfect banking career and the perfect house and the perfect lawn in the perfect neighborhood and the perfect kids and the perfect toys and the perfect SUV and the perfect wife, who is a perfect bitch if I ever met one, and all of these things are not because he really wants them, necessarily, but because they inform the world that you are Winning At Life. And Enid. God, Enid. If I’d grown up with Enid as a mother I’d have been constantly wanting to stab her with a fork. Fussy, cheap, self-centered, judgmental, manipulative, the kind of person who says “matoor.” I did kind of like Denise, though many others did not. Perhaps that’s because her mistakes are the kind I’ve been known to make myself. (Actually, the Lambert family reminds me a lot of the Jordache family in Irwin Shaw’s Rich Man, Poor Man; I kind of liked Gretchen too. Both of them have that whole madonna/whore thing going on.)
I have mixed feelings about postmodern literature. A lot of it seems to take itself way too seriously and I can’t get into it (David Foster Wallace, Mark Danielewski). Other pomo stuff I love (Margaret Atwood, Truman Capote, Angela Carter). This book was #1 on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book recommended by a librarian. The librarian-type-dude in question is my kid Monster, who loves pomo and DFW both. I don’t hold that against him, although pomo is always hit-or-miss for me.
In spite of bringing the 1972 Rabbit Massacre to the forefront of my mind and its largely unlikable characters (or perhaps because of them), The Corrections was a hit, happily. I give four stars to a book I really really like, and five to one I love enough that I might read it again. I may indeed read this one again, just for a second pass at all the Narnian references and the “wroth” scattered throughout like buckshot, much of which I probably missed. This book is cynical and grim and brimming over with flawed humanity and surprise sacrifices and not a little schadenfreude. The threads winding between the players and their circumstances are a finely-spun web. One or two of Franzen’s phrases did make me cringe: “Two empty hours were a sinus in which infections bred.” Ugh. But the story pulled me in and I found the writing to be mostly impressive. “The air on Catharine Street smelled like the last weekend of baseball.” Who does not know exactly what that smells like?
So, four stars, with a bonus star for the Oprah feud. The library copy I read was from the short-lived print run with the “Oprah Book Club” sticker on it; they might want to stop lending it and put it up on eBay instead.
Chaise longue. Every time I see this I think it’s wrong, that it should be “chaise lounge,” so I finally looked it up. I stand corrected. It is French (duh) and literally means “long chair.” I still think it sounds pretentious compared to the Americanized “chaise lounge,” but my taste runs more to mom-and-pop La-Z-Boys anyway. Maybe a nice Chesterfield, or an ottoman (nod to BNL).
Lagniappe. A small gift from a merchant to a customer making a purchase. Perhaps this is the highbrow way to say BOGO.
Bookshelves: literary-fiction, schadenfreude, plot-twists-and-irony, multiple-povs, reading-challenge, pomo, satire, social-commentary, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, five-stars-means-i’ll-read-it-again