The Corrections has sat on my bookshelf for five or six years now, and even five years ago it was a while since it had been the New Great American Novel.
The prospect of a trip to Mauritius in not-quite-swimming weather made me determined to read one of the fattest, most promising novels on my shelf, one I’d been Intending to Get To for a Long Time, and The Corrections fit the bill nicely.
For those, like me, who have been living under a rock (until I actually got to the land of sea and sun I hadn’t so much as read the blurb on the back cover, having picked this up on reputation alone) this is the story of Enid and her family.
Enid and Alfred’s kids are grown up and far-flung from their Midwest family home. The family’s decidedly not close-knit, but as Parkinson’s disintegrates the man who was once Alfred, Enid embarks on a mission to bring everyone together for One Last Family Christmas.
I get up to here on the blurb before getting a sinking feeling, having fresh knowledge of how a family Christmas, once gone, won’t ever be the same again. I seem to have a positive talent for choosing books and movies that have barbs like this in the tail these days, catching me unawares and prompting spontaneous fits of eye leakage.
But I decided to soldier on and by golly, I’m glad I did.
This funny, irritating, absorbing book has a crack at dissecting all the human experiences closest to the bone – family, marriage, anger, ritual and the way our brains make sense of it all.
With a sprawling, segueing structure and suspended realities sewn into the narrative – including, but not limited to, Alfred’s flights of demented fancy – the story races towards the crucial Yuletide.
I didn’t quite finish it in Mauritius – it’s a fat one – but though progress slowed once I was back home, it was not because of a dull moment. This book doesn’t have any dull moments.
For a novel that is all about the ending it is constantly building towards, there is quite a bit riding on how things turn out.
Thankfully, this ending was not sentimental or simple or soft – it was everything its characters and readers warranted and deserved.
I felt unsettled but deeply satisfied by it, and had to sit for those long, reverberating moments you experience at the end of a really good read.
And I can pretty much guarantee that just about anyone with a skerrick of lit-love would too.
On this note, lit-lovers, pick up a copy of Franzen’s essays, How to be Alone – an exquisitely written collection of illuminating ideas.