Alfred Lambert, the ordered and ethical patriarch of a classically repressed Midwestern family, is suffering from Parkinson's and mental delusions as well as physical aging. His three kids have tried to escape the foibles and control of their parents, and have both succeeded and failed. Oldest son Gary is a successful businessman teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Chip lost his college teaching job after getting involved with a student, and has run off to Lithuania to make easy but dishonest money with former politico-soldiers. Daughter Denise has been a successful chef at a number of places but juggles a bewildering array of romantic and sexual relationships. Everyone seems to be about to crack up, including mother Enid, who is a master at ignoring unpleasant realities and wants only to have her kids and grandkids return to the Midwest for one last Christmas. Franzen writes both wisely and sardonically; there is much painful humor in this sprawling narrative, which looks into the past of the Lamberts in great detail as well as bringing them together for a final crisis. An obvious attempt to write a Great American Novel, one of the signal achievements of this sometimes too-tricky and self-congratulatory tale is that though each of its primary characters could easily be seen as a caricature, Franzen manages to get inside all of them enough to let the reader see them as they see themselves as well as how they view the others.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Farrar Straus & Giroux; Sep 2001; 26.00; 528 pp.
Alfred Lambert was the patriarch and the disciplinarian of a family of five. However, he now suffers ignobly from Parkinson's disease and has plenty of elder care needs. His spouse Enid wants to remain loyal to her long time mate and provider, or at least her memory of him. However, she feels more like a hostage to his sickness though choosing to ignore his illness and dream about anything more uplifting to care about.
Their only daughter Denise begins a job in a hip bistro in Philadelphia. However, she puts her work in jeopardy when she begins an affair with her boss' spouse. The oldest son Gary struggles with depression. With the help of his wife he steps closer to the abyss of a breakdown. The youngest son Chip loses his academic job due to a student. He almost loses his life next on some fraudulent scheme in Europe. The Lambert brood appears all ready to self-destruct and yet each one keeps alive in their heart a glimmer of hope for a better future.
THE CORRECTIONS is a humorous yet extremely serious look at an American family against a backdrop of the world scene. The story line is bitter, melancholy, and yet somehow manages to be optimistic as well. Each member of the Lambert brood is a genuine individual struggling to cope with life. Though harsh in many respects, humor keeps the novel from becoming too maudlin. Jonathan Franzen, who writes a novel every decade or so, shows why he is one of the best authors with this must read classic look at the American way of life.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner