Reading Franzen: Part IV


Part IV: At Sea


Alfred’s condition has significantly worsened as he and his wife take their yearly cruise; Enid finds solace in a new miracle drug called Aslan.


This was perhaps the most interesting part in the entire novel, 302 pages into the 568 page novel we are finally treated with intrigue in the form of a tragic story told by one of the passengers on the ship, a woman named Sylvia who’s daughter was brutally murdered by one of her patients. It’s the first part of the novel that’s actually felt real, and incredibly tragic, and yet it somehow retains this odd clinical distance that makes you feel vaguely sad, yet not quite emotional enough to actually cry over it, the way one might at the death of a character in any other novel. One of the many issues I have with Franzen, now having read the majority of this book, is there is this strange distance he keeps between the reader and the characters, it really lacks the emotional depth one would expect from a novel, and I can’t really ascertain whether this is deliberate or some oversight on his part, but it’s really quite frustrating. Even in something like the Casual Vacancy which is of the literary genre, there isn’t this separation… you feel for the characters, you hate most of them, but there’s empathy there. Almost no character thus far in the Corrections elicits empathy, merely apathy. I’m not really sure how you sustain a readers interest without some form of emotional connection with said reader.

The part is intermingled with technical details (Franzen is really obsessed with teaching us the chemical science of depression and emotions), and odd jumps to the past, it’s made all the more interesting by this story told by Enid’s new found friend, and her newfound comfort from her life in a drug called Aslan. (The Chronicles of Narnia are mentioned several times throughout the book, make of that what you will).

I really have nothing negative to say about Part IV, other than, somewhere along the line towards the final few pages of the part, while Enid and Alfred were at breakfast, everyone’s conversations were all over the place. Scattered to the wind with no direction. I’m going to assume this is meant to be from Alfred’s point-of-view, but given the novel’s propensity for leaping randomly from past to present, to otherwise unrelated random tidbits of information, it’s hard to say what this stream of consciousness style of dialogue is meant to mean.

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