Reading Franzen: Part I


Where do I begin with Jonathan Franzen? From not wanting to be on Oprah’s Book Club, to his rants about the internet and ‘serious literature’, I’ve made my thoughts on him abundantly clear over the years. But between his many literary awards, one has to wonder if there isn’t something to his writing, even if he is exhausting as a person. Writers aren’t often known for their fuzzy demeanors, and I wonder perhaps if this is not part of the problem here. In an effort to afford Mr. Franzen the benefit of this doubt, I’ve decided to read the Corrections. Arguably one of his most well known novels, published in 2001 the Corrections follows a family drama of an aging wife and mother as she attempts to bring her three children together for Christmas as their father suffers advancing Alzheimer’s disease.

Because it’s not really broken up in to chapters I’m going to be writing my thoughts and reviews of the parts with actual titles to them.

Part I St. Jude


Here we meet our main characters of Enid and Alfred Lambert (who vaguely remind me of Edith and Archie Bunker of All in the Family). Much is said of their home life, Enid’s obsession with finding a letter that she’s mostly keeping secret from her husband, his oppressive demeanor towards her, and by the end it starts to become clear that he is at least in the beginning stages of his disease, though it seems this is something he’s currently hiding from his wife.


While arguably the shortest part in the entire book, it’s clear only few pages in that Franzen likes to wax poetic about his characters, for someone who believes so heavily in the importance of ‘serious literature’ I find it curious that thus far it feels already as though he’s telling the reader more about the characters than he’s necessarily showing.

It seems curious the way in which the author attempts to make the most mundane things seem interesting, but perhaps since anything a reader might actually find interesting is thus far absent it would seem that the only thing one can really do is make an allusion that paying a bill is somehow like guerrilla warfare.

It’s quite clear that this woman the main character of Enid Lambert is in an abusive relationship, the authors insistent use of the oppressive government while an odd choice makes that abundantly clear. I would venture to guess that the author will find a way to make this pathos seem acceptable or even admirable, which I find problematic.

One thing I’ve noticed (beyond long-windedness and a tendency to wax poetic about everything is that it feels to me that Franzen’s metaphors are all over the place. He compares the marriage to a tyrannical government, then in explaining the house and the dust uses fantasy metaphors of magic and potion type bottles. Perhaps it is my newness to the literary genre, but I would imagine there would be a way to continue working in the war-torn tyrannical government metaphors into the explanation of the basement. In fact I imagine it would have worked better.

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