2003/02/03

I don’t even know I’d call the book “ingenious” and “innovative” anymore. It’s certainly well-written though.

[The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen]

I’ve finished Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which I concede is creative and ingenious and innovative, etc., etc., etc., but it was difficult to enjoy. I mean, considering that it’s about a midwestern American family, going through various stages of midlife crises and/or depression, it couldn’t be further detached from the world I live in. I suppose for the critics it captured the essence of being American and suffering the changes in ideas and ideals and ideologies, but as an Asian-American, who has lived on the East Coast all her life (and yes, those nine years in Houston counted as East Coast), it couldn’t be more alien.

One would expect that reading fantasy would, well, be escapist, and yes, it is to a certain degree. On the other hand, all the books I really enjoy are probably closest to me in terms of mental familiarity. Even contemporary mainstream books like The Lovely Bones focus on something I can relate to myself, like family life. The Corrections has very few chances for that kind of connection. I don’t understand these characters very well, and it’s hard to experience their world through their minds. And, well, the fixation on fecal matter and urine may have been thematically important, but was it necessary to describe the smell of rancid urine? I tend to have overly vivid reading experiences, and I nearly threw up on those particular passages. Sheesh.

Comments (2)

  1. 7374e9 wrote::

    I think being a non-american has nothing to do with this: Franzen achieved his purpose, he alienated you. There is little to be identify with in his protagonists, except for the sense of failure. I guess you were lucky not to feel that way!

    I read Corrections in deep fascination over how profoundly disfunctional contemporary American families, and individuals can be. However alien they may be to my mental makeup.

    Thank you!

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 05:19 #
  2. troisroyaumes wrote::

    I agree that being non-American has nothing to do with it; the opinions expressed above were from four years ago before I had much exposure to contemporary literary fiction. But I don’t know if Franzen’s purpose is to alienate the reader. I think he does try to disgust us but I think he also expects us to uncomfortably identify with the characters as well. Reviews of his recently published memoirs suggest, in any case, that the characters of The Corrections were not particularly more dysfunctional than his own family. (Granted, I haven’t read his latest book yet, so I can’t personally attest to that.)

    Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 21:56 #