Tuesday, July 1, 2008

THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen

Upon finishing The Corrections I hereby retract my earlier characterization of it (in conversation and online) as a 'truly awful, overrated book,' an opinion based on an aborted first reading several years ago. While certainly flawed and too worshipful of the fictions of Don DeLillo, it's a good novel overall. It's good, not great, and certainly not the landmark work of American literature that it was proclaimed by many reviewers. No, what we really have here is a Joyce Carol Oates-type social realist novel (the least adventurous kind of 'serious' American literature) dosed with DeLillo-esque paranoia and spiced with a few scenes that pastiche the 'edgy' pantheon (Pynchon in the 'talking turd' scene; Heller in the 'ship's doctor' scene). This combination creates a few jarring tonal disparities (as though scenes from an earlier, more satirical draft have been spliced into the more somber final narrative) and lessens the novel's impact, making it read at times more like a first novel than a third one. So, while The Corrections is not a masterwork--and is not, I suspect, as adventurous a novel as Franzen is capable of writing--it is still well worth reading.

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