I finished The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, last week, the story of an American family living the Capitalism era. Published in 2001 and expected to be “The Great American novel”, the novel enjoyed very much success in the US and abroad, but it hasn’t managed to be that great American piece everyone was waiting for in those days.
The Corrections presents the story of the Lamberts, the saga of Alfred and Enid and their 3 children. Throughout the novel, we get to know the insights of the family, of its members and the social context their living in: we discover the history of an important railroad company, a pharmaceutic company, politics in the US and abroad, entertainment. All the members of the Lambert family failed at something: Alfred is a depressed retired old man suffering from Parkinson and dementia who still lives lingering on the past. Enid tries to look after her husband without acknowledging the depth of his problems and seeking to convince everybody, including herself, that they are one big happy family. The whole novel is in fact her desperate attempt to bring the family together for “one last Christmas”. Their three children have built their lives far from St. Jude and they’re struggling to keep the fragile balance of their daily life from falling apart. Garry, the eldest son, is living a drama of his own, divided between the duty to his parents and his own family, with a wife who tries badly to diminish his authority in the family and gain the love and support of their sons over him. His brother, Chip, is still seeking his purpose in life with no family of his own nor a stable job, a misunderstood artist no able to get his career on the move. Denise, the youngest daughter of the Lamberts, has become a famous chef and is struggling to clear out her sexuality. Every single character of the book is unhappy, even if they all are (except Alfred) trying so hard to keep the appearance of having a successful and happy life. Franzen makes a complete, well observed portrait of humanity in the Capitalism era, mixing humor, irony, satire and harsh criticism. While reading, I found it very hard to form an opinion on this family as there were moments when I hated them, I despised some of them and I pitied them all. They all seem broken down wheels, corroded by external dust and internal acids, that have to swirl around trying, to keep together all the pieces of the mammoth-like mechanism called family. Every character has his own bright parts and his shadows, which make them real and easy to relate to. I think this novel make the readers thinks of their own families and feel relieved that, in their cases, things aren’t so bad after all. It made me think of the popular old saying that “you cannot choose your family” and that all members of a family share some common grounds even if they are so different from one another.
The Corrections is well written, with great attention to detail and with well articulated characters. I like the way that even secondary characters, and some even less obvious, are so defined and that Franzen’s reader is given the change to go deeper into their lives, even if, they are thrown away in the next chapter. Depicting the Lamberts, Franzen manages to describe the life of the American nation and of humanity in general. Despite all the parallel stories , in fact, everything revolves around one single day – Christmas at the Lamberts’ house in St. Jude. It gave me the sensation of a scrap piece of paper with the drawing of a happy family sitting around the Christmas tree, thrown away one a alley in a autumn day. From far away, everything seems joyful, but when you come to look at it closer, things start to change. As it usually happens in life.