First edition cover
|Cover artist||Jacket design by Lynn Buckley.
Photograph: Willinger / FPG
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|September 1, 2001|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||568 pp (first edition, hc)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-374-12998-3 (first)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 21|
|LC Class||PS3556.R352 C67 2001|
The Corrections is a 2001 novel by American author Jonathan Franzen. It revolves around the troubles of an elderly Midwestern couple and their three adult children, tracing their lives from the mid-twentieth century to "one last Christmas" together near the turn of the millennium. The novel was awarded the National Book Award in 2001 and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2002.
The Corrections focuses on the Lamberts, a traditional and somewhat repressed Midwestern family, whose children have fled to the east coast to start new lives free from the influence of their parents. The novel moves back and forth in time throughout the late twentieth century, depicting the personal growth and mistakes of each family member in detail. The book climaxes around the time of the technology driven economic boom of the late nineties as the troubled family's problems begin to boil to the surface.
Alfred Lambert is a railroad engineer and the stern patriarch of the Lambert family, based in the fictional town of St. Jude. After his children grow up and move to the east coast, Alfred retires, but soon begins to suffer from Parkinson's disease, causing his organized and repressed personality to fracture. Alfred's loyal wife Enid has long suffered from his tyrannical behavior, but his increasing dementia makes her life still harder. She is also tortured by the questionable life choices of her three children and their abandonment of midwestern Protestant values. As the economic boom of the late nineties goes into full swing, the family's massive problems become impossible to ignore.
Gary, the eldest Lambert son, is a successful but seemingly depressed and alcoholic banker in Philadelphia who suspects his life is carefully controlled by his manipulative wife and children. Chip, the middle child, is a Marxist academic whose disastrous affair with a student loses him a tenure-track job and lands him in the employ of a Lithuanian crime boss defrauding American investors. Denise, the youngest of the family, is a successful chef in Philadelphia but loses her job after interlocking romances with both her boss and his wife.
The separate plot-lines converge on Christmas morning back in St. Jude, when Enid and her children are forced to confront Alfred's accelerating physical and mental decline.
The title of The Corrections refers most literally to the decline of the technology-driven economic boom of the late nineties. Franzen makes this clear at the beginning of the book's final chapter, also titled "The Corrections":
The Correction, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle let-down, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets...
This economic correction parallels the simultaneous "corrections" that Franzen's characters make to their own lives in the novel's final pages. Franzen has said that "the most important corrections of the book are the sudden impingements of truth or reality on characters who are expending ever larger sums of energy on self-deception or denial." Enid becomes more flexible in her worldview and less submissive to her husband's authority, and Chip begins a more mature relationship with a woman, simultaneously reconciling with his father. Gary, the only central character who fails to learn from his mistakes and grow during the course of the novel, loses a lot of money as technology stocks begin to decline.
Another key theme in the book is America's transition from an industrial economy to an economy based largely on the financial, high-tech and service sectors. Alfred, a railroad engineer with a pension and a deep loyalty to his company, embodies the old economic order of mid-twentieth century America. His children, a chef, an investment banker, and a professor/internet entrepreneur, embody the new economic order at the turn of the millennium. Franzen depicts this economic transition most concretely in his descriptions of Denise's workplace, an abandoned Philadelphia coal plant converted into a trendy, expensive restaurant.
The narrative of Chip's involvement with Gitanas' attempt to bring the country of Lithuania to the market – "lithuania.com" on the internet – comments on unrestrained capitalism and the privileges and power of the wealthy while meaningful distinctions between private and public sectors disappear. "The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainments and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence."
The book addresses conflicts and issues within a family that arise from the presence of a progressive debilitating disease of an elder. As Alfred’s dementia and parkinsonism unfold mercilessly, they affect Enid and all three children eliciting different and over time changing reactions. Medical help and hype – the latter in the form of the investigatory method “Corecktall” – do not provide a solution. At the end, Alfred refuses to eat and dies, the ultimate “correction” of the problem.
The novel won the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, was nominated for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award, and was shortlisted for the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2005, The Corrections was included in TIME magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels. In 2006, Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation." In 2009, website The Millions polled 48 writers, critics, and editors, including Joshua Ferris, Sam Anderson, and Lorin Stein. The panel voted The Corrections the best novel of the first decade of the millennium "by a landslide".
The novel was a selection of Oprah's Book Club in 2001. Franzen caused some controversy when he publicly expressed his ambivalence at his novel having been chosen by the club due to its inevitable association with the "schmaltzy" books selected in the past. As a result, Winfrey rescinded her invitation to him to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Entertainment Weekly put The Corrections on its end-of-the-decade "best-of" list, saying, "Forget all the Oprah hoo-ha: Franzen's 2001 doorstop of a domestic drama teaches that, yes, you can go home again. But you might not want to."
With The Corrections, Franzen moved away from the postmodernism of his earlier novels and towards literary realism. In a conversation with novelist Donald Antrim for BOMB Magazine, Franzen said of this stylistic change, "Simply to write a book that wasn't dressed up in a swashbuckling, Pynchon-sized megaplot was enormously difficult." Critics pointed out many similarities between Franzen's childhood in St. Louis and the novel, but the work is not an autobiography. Franzen said in an interview that "the most important experience of my life ... is the experience of growing up in the Midwest with the particular parents I had. I feel as if they couldn’t fully speak for themselves, and I feel as if their experience—by which I mean their values, their experience of being alive, of being born at the beginning of the century and dying towards the end of it, that whole American experience they had—[is] part of me. One of my enterprises in the book is to memorialize that experience, to give it real life and form." The novel also focuses on topics such as the multi-generational transmission of family dysfunction and the waste inherent in today's consumer economy, and each of the characters "embody the conflicting consciousnesses and the personal and social dramas of our era." Influenced by Franzen's life, the novel in turn influenced it; during its writing, he said in 2002, he moved "away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance – even a celebration – of being a reader and a writer."
In a Newsweek feature on American culture during the George W. Bush administration, Jennie Yabroff said that despite being released less than a year into Bush's term and before the September 11 attacks, The Corrections "anticipates almost eerily the major concerns of the next seven years." According to Yabroff, a study of The Corrections demonstrates that much of the apprehension and disquiet that is seen as characteristic of the Bush era and post-9/11 America actually predated both. In this way, the novel is both characteristic of its time and prophetic of things to come; for Yabroff, even the controversy with Oprah, which saw Franzen branded an "elitist", was symptomatic of the subsequent course of American culture, with its increasingly prominent anti-elitist strain. She argues that The Corrections stands above later novels which focus on similar themes, because unlike its successors it addresses these themes without being "hamstrung by the 9/11 problem" which preoccupied Bush-era novels by writers such as Don DeLillo, Jay McInerney, and Jonathan Safran Foer.
In 2002, the film was said to be in pre-production, with Stephen Daldry attached to direct and dramatist David Hare working on the screenplay. In October 2002, Franzen gave Entertainment Weekly a wish cast-list for the film, saying, "If they told me Gene Hackman was going to do Alfred, I would be delighted. If they told me they had cast Cate Blanchett as [Alfred's daughter] Denise, I would be jumping up and down, even though officially I really don't care what they do with the movie."
In January 2005, Variety announced that, with Daldry presumably off the project, Robert Zemeckis was developing Hare's script "with an eye toward directing." In August 2005, Variety confirmed that the director would definitely be helming The Corrections. Around this time, it was rumored that the cast would include Judi Dench as the family matriarch Enid, along with Brad Pitt, Tim Robbins, and Naomi Watts as her three children. In January 2007, Variety wrote that Hare was still at work on the film's screenplay.
In September, 2011, it was announced that Rudin and the screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach were preparing The Corrections as a "drama series project," to potentially co-star Anthony Hopkins and air on the cable channel HBO. Baumbach and Franzen collaborated on the screenplay, which Baumbach would direct. In 2011, it was announced that Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest will star in the HBO adaptation. In November 2011, it was announced that Ewan McGregor has joined the cast. In a March 7, 2012 interview, McGregor confirmed that work on the film was a "about a week" in and also noted that both Dianne Wiest and Maggie Gyllenhaal were among the cast members. However, in May 1, 2012, HBO decided not to pick up the pilot for a full series.
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(With acceptance speech by Franzen and essays by Mary Jo Bang, David Ulin, and Lee Taylor Gaffigan from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
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- Answering Viewers' Questions at Big Think from April 14, 2008
- The Complete Review: detailed summary and overview of reviews