Sometimes you hear about books in places where you’d never expect. I first read about The Corrections in the music magazine, Uncut, the exact same rag where I heard about Vernon God Little. The strange thing is that Vernon God Little is the exact type of book that Uncut would champion – gritty, rough and in your face- but The Corrections wasn’t. However after Uncut started to mention it’s greatness in every issue I was incredibly curious and went down to my local bookstore in order to buy a copy (Even though I was still working at the rival store at the time, desperate needs call for desperate measures!)
On the whole it’s such a simple premise ; Enid Lambert wants the whole family together for one last Christmas before her husband, Alfred dies of Parkinson’s or forgets his children due to his Alzheimer’s. The problem is that all three of the Lambert children are victims of modern day America and are screw ups of the first degree and it is through these three characters that Franzen lashes out at every aspect of U.S. culture that has pissed him off for the last few years. Whether it’s Gary the depressed banker, Chip the materialistic failed professor or Denise the glamorous chef, Franzen holds no bars in describing what life has done to them.
In the end the whole family do meet together but by now their lives are poisoned by society that they fail even to bond with each other, the moment which causes redemption is when Alfred dies and then the Lamberts realise what has happened to them.
The Corrections is not a perfect book. The bits where Chip gets involved with the Lithuanian underworld is a bit dull and unnecessary, so is the cruise that Enid and Alfred go on (although Alfred’s dream is one of the best passages in the book). Place these two blips aside and you do have a powerful, and in an odd way prophetic novel of the Bush administration. Franzen’s satire, although vicious is never in your face and at times is also humorous. Yet there is an aura of greatness in this book, which places Franzen in the League of DeLillo, Roth, McCarthy, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Fitzgerald. In fact I think it would be safe to say that The Corrections is the last truly Great American Novel, in the fullest sense of the word.