Jump to content

The Corrections

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Corrections
First edition cover
AuthorJonathan Franzen
Cover artistJacket design by Lynn Buckley.
Photograph: Willinger / FPG
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
September 1, 2001
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages568 pp (first edition, hc)
ISBN0-374-12998-3 (first)
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3556.R352 C67 2001
Preceded byStrong Motion 
Followed byFreedom 

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-20th century to "one last Christmas" together near the turn of the millennium. The novel was awarded the National Book Award in 2001[1] and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2002.

The Corrections was published to wide acclaim from literary critics for its characterization and prose. While the novel's release preceded the September 11 terrorist attacks by ten days, many have interpreted The Corrections as having prescient insight into the major concerns and general mood of post-9/11 American life, and it has been listed in multiple publications as one of the greatest novels of the 21st century.[2][3][4]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel shifts back and forth through the late 20th century, intermittently following spouses Alfred and Enid Lambert as they raise their children Gary, Chip, and Denise in the traditional Midwestern suburb of St. Jude, and the lives of each family member as the three children grow up, distancing themselves and living on the East Coast. Alfred, a rigid and strict patriarch who worked as a railroad engineer, has developed Parkinson's and shows increasingly unmanageable symptoms of dementia. Enid takes out her frustrations with him by attempting to impose her traditional judgments on her adult children's lives, to their annoyance.

The middle son, Chip, is an unemployed academic living in New York City following his termination as a tenure-track university professor due to a sexual relationship with a student. Living on borrowed money from Denise, Chip works obsessively on a screenplay, but finds no success or motivation to pay off his debts. Following a rejection of his screenplay, Chip takes a job from his girlfriend's estranged husband Gitanas, a friendly but corrupt Lithuanian government official, later moving to Vilnius and working to defraud American investors over the Internet.

Their eldest son, Gary, is a successful but increasingly depressive and alcoholic banker living in Philadelphia with his wife, Caroline, and their three young sons. When Enid attempts to persuade Gary to bring his family to St. Jude for Christmas, Caroline is reluctant, and turns Gary's sons against him and Enid, worsening his depressive tendencies. In return, Gary attempts to force his parents to move to Philadelphia so that Alfred may undergo an experimental neurological treatment that he and Denise learn about.

Also living in Philadelphia, their youngest child Denise finds growing success as an executive chef despite Enid's disapproval and persistent scrutiny of her personal life, and is commissioned to open a new restaurant. Simultaneously impulsive and a workaholic, Denise begins affairs with both her boss and his wife, and though the restaurant is successful, she is fired when they are uncovered. Flashbacks to her childhood show her responding to her repressed upbringing by beginning an affair with one of her father's subordinates, a married railroad signals worker.

As Alfred's condition worsens, Enid attempts to manipulate all of her children into going to St. Jude for Christmas, with increasing desperation. Initially only Gary and Denise are present, Gary having failed to convince his wife or children, while Chip is delayed by a violent political conflict in Lithuania, eventually arriving late after being attacked and robbed of all his savings. Denise inadvertently discovers that her father had known of her teenaged affair with his subordinate, and had kept his knowledge a secret to protect her privacy, at great personal cost. After a disastrous Christmas morning together, the three children are dismayed by their father's condition, and Alfred is finally moved into a nursing home.

As Alfred's condition deteriorates in care, Chip stays with Enid and visits his father frequently while dating a doctor, eventually having twins with her. Denise leaves Philadelphia and moves to New York to work at a new restaurant where she is much happier. Enid, freed of her responsibilities and long-time frustrations with Alfred, slowly becomes a more open-minded person, and enjoys a healthier involvement in her children's and grandchildren's lives, finally stating that she is ready to make some changes in her life.


According to John Leonard, the novel explores the generation gap and the grasp of one generation on another in a way that reminds you of "why you read serious fiction in the first place".[5]

The novel won the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction[1] and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize,[6] 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 Dublin Literary Award. In 2005, The Corrections was included in TIME magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.[7] In 2006, Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation."[8] In 2009, website The Millions polled 48 writers, critics, and editors, including Joshua Ferris, Sam Anderson, and Lorin Stein;[9] the panel voted The Corrections the best novel since 2000 "by a landslide".[10] 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.[11] As a result, Oprah Winfrey rescinded her invitation to him to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[12]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."[13]

Style and interpretations[edit]

With The Corrections, Franzen moved away from the postmodernism of his earlier novels and towards literary realism.[14] In a conversation with novelist Donald Antrim for Bomb, 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."[15] Critics pointed out many similarities between Franzen's childhood in St. Louis and the novel,[16] but the work is not an autobiography.[17] 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."[18] The novel also focuses on topics such as the multi-generational transmission of family dysfunction[19] and the waste inherent in today's consumer economy,[20] and each of the characters "embody the conflicting consciousnesses and the personal and social dramas of our era."[21] 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."[22]

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."[11] 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.[11]

Film adaptation[edit]

In August 2001, producer Scott Rudin optioned the film rights to The Corrections for Paramount Pictures.[23] The rights still have not yet been turned into a completed film.[24]

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.[25] In October 2002, Franzen gave Entertainment Weekly a wish-list for the cast of 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."[26]

In January 2005, Variety announced that, with Daldry presumably off the project, Robert Zemeckis was developing Hare's script "with an eye toward directing."[27] In August 2005, Variety confirmed that the director would definitely be helming The Corrections.[28] 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.[29] In January 2007, Variety wrote that Hare was still at work on the film's screenplay.[30]

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 HBO. Baumbach and Franzen collaborated on the screenplay, which Baumbach would direct. In 2011, it was announced that Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest would star in the HBO adaptation. In November 2011, it was announced that Ewan McGregor had joined the cast.[31] In a March 7, 2012, interview, McGregor confirmed that work on the film was "about a week" in and noted that both Dianne Wiest and Maggie Gyllenhaal were among the cast members.[32] But on May 1, 2012, HBO decided not to pick up the pilot for a full series.[33]

Radio adaptation[edit]

In January 2015, the BBC broadcast a 15-part radio dramatisation of the work. The series of 15-minute episodes, adapted by Marcy Kahan and directed by Emma Harding, also starred Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Maggie Steed (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), Colin Stinton (Rush, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (Lucy, Rush, Notting Hill). The series was part of BBC Radio 4's 15 Minute Drama "classic and contemporary original drama and book dramatisations".


  1. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 2001". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
    (With acceptance speech by Franzen and essays by Mary Jo Bang, David Ulin, and Lee Taylor Gaffigan from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ The New Classics: Books
  3. ^ All-TIME 100 Books
  4. ^ "A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon". www.vulture.com. September 17, 2018. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  5. ^ Leonard, John (September 20, 2001). "Nuclear Fission (review of The Corrections)". The New York Review of Books.
  6. ^ "Fiction". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. October 16, 2005. Archived from the original on October 19, 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  8. ^ Birnbaum, Robert. "Bret Easton Ellis", The Morning News, January 19, 2006. Retrieved on October 28, 2008.
  9. ^ "The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far): An Introduction", The Millions, By Editor, September 21, 2009 .
  10. ^ McGee, C. Max (September 25, 2009). "Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers". The Millions.
  11. ^ a b c Yabroff, Jennie (December 22, 2008). "The Way We Were: Art and Culture In the Bush Era". Newsweek. New York City: Newsweek Media Group.
  12. ^ Kachka, Boris (August 5, 2013). "Corrections". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  13. ^ Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), "THE 100 Greatest MOVIES, TV SHOWS, ALBUMS, BOOKS, CHARACTERS, SCENES, EPISODES, SONGS, DRESSES, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND TRENDS THAT ENTERTAINED US OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS". Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74-84
  14. ^ Brooks, Neil Edward; Toth, Josh (2007). The Mourning After: Attending the wake of postmodernism. p. 201. ISBN 978-9042021624. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  15. ^ Antrim, Donald. "Jonathan Franzen". BOMB Magazine. Fall 2001. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
  16. ^ Theo Schell-Lambert. "Village Voice 9/5/06 article". Villagevoice.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  17. ^ "American Popular Culture Magazine article". Americanpopularculture.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  18. ^ Laugier, Sandra. "Interview in Bomb Magazine issue 77". Bombsite.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  19. ^ Merkel, Julia (October 2007). Hereditary Misery. p. 5. ISBN 9783638818230. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  20. ^ Ginsborg, Paul; Ginsborg, Professor Paul (2005). ginsbor, The Politics of Everyday Life, p. 63. ISBN 9780300107487. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  21. ^ "Bookpage interview". Bookpage.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  22. ^ Franzen, Jonathan (May 15, 2007). Franzen, How to be Alone, p. 3-6. ISBN 9780374707644. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  23. ^ Bing, Jonathan; Fleming, Michael (August 1, 2001). "'Corrections' connections for Rudin". Variety.
  24. ^ The Corrections (2011) IMDB
  25. ^ Susman, Gary. "Cast Away", Entertainment Weekly, January 27, 2005. Retrieved on January 25, 2007.
  26. ^ Valby, Karen. "Correction Dept." Entertainment Weekly, October 25, 2002. Retrieved January 25, 2007.
  27. ^ Fleming, Michael (January 27, 2005). "Zemeckis checks new draft of 'Corrections'". Variety. Retrieved January 25, 2007.
  28. ^ Fleming, Michael. "Rudin books tyro novel", Variety, August 29, 2005. Retrieved on January 25, 2007.
  29. ^ Watts & Pitt Undergo "Corrections" (February 4, 2005) – Dark Horizons
  30. ^ Fleming, Michael. "Miramax, Rudin option rights to novel: Pair pact for Pessl novel 'Calamity'", Variety, January 10, 2007. Retrieved on November 1, 2007.
  31. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "Noah Baumbach’s & Scott Rudin’s ‘The Corrections’ Adaptation Nears Pilot Pickup At HBO, Anthony Hopkins Circling", Deadline Hollywood, September 2, 2011. Retrieved on September 5, 2011.
  32. ^ Tasha Robinson "Interview: Ewan McGregor"
  33. ^ HBO Passes on the Pilot for The Corrections Adaptation

External links[edit]

Preceded by National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by