I read The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen because it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2002. I must admit that when I saw the thickness of the book I almost gave up on it before even opening it, it’s 653 pages long and it was a paperback that I borrowed from the library. I find thick paperbacks really awkward to read. My history with these James TBM winners hasn’t been all that great, but I really liked this one and I don’t really know why I did, because there are so many aspects of it that I really dislike in a book, such as it not having any really likeable characters. Most of them are quite objectionable but at times they all have moments of decency in them and I suppose that made them very human, it’s such a well observed book as far as people and families are concerned I think.
The elderly matriarch Enid Lambert lives in a bit of a fantasy world as far as her three grown up children’s lives are concerned, she’s happy for her friends to believe that they are all successful and everything is hunky dory in their lives. The truth is she hardly ever sees them and is struggling on her own with her husband Alfred who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. All she wants is for her two sons and her daughter to come home for a few days over Christmas – and maybe her daughter-in-law and grandsons too. She wants to have a last family Christmas in the home that they’ve grown up in, then maybe she will be able to sell it and move to somewhere more practical to live in. Alfred is losing his grip on reality, possibly because of the medication he is on.
The trouble is that the adult children’s own lives are a mess, and the more the reader discovers of their childhoods the easier it is to see why they have grown to be such broken and selfish adults whose lives are falling apart.
There were so many scenes in this book that rang bells for me, such as the fight over a child who hates the food he has been given for dinner and is forced to stay at the table until he has eaten it all. That reminded me of a woman I knew who did that with her son – but the outcome there was much more dramatic than the scene in this book!
There’s no doubt that Enid has always been unhappy in her marriage and she punishes them by cooking food she knows that her husband in particular hates. She had married Alfred because he was tall and well-built and he earned good money, but she was never going to be able to stop scrimping, that was just her nature, and she was always comparing her life-style with her friends and neighbours who had husbands with lower moral standards financially than Alfred had. But with a stock market crash on the horizon – will that matter?
Surprisingly the book’s ending is fairly upbeat as most of the characters get a second crack at life, hopefully having learned from their past mistakes.
It seems that there are lots of people who hated this book and gave up on it, but there are also lots who have given it 5 stars on Goodreads. I think I’ll give it 4 stars, mainly because it should have been shorter by 150 pages or so, but I understand that most readers nowadays like a big chunky book because they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, publishers should just make slim volumes cheaper.