The Corrections28 Oct 2015
Franzen, it seems, feels the need to write long. His recent books have been in the 500-page range. An argument could be made that he feels the need to create an atmosphere around the reader in which he can convey the story he wants to convey. If you list out the facts and events of this novel, they don’t exceed a few pages. I suppose that’s the difference between what Franzen is trying to do and what Hemingway or Akhil Sharma try to do. Franzen wants to write more about how this story feels, rather than just strictly what the story is. It helps, then, that his writing is so good. In most other scenarios, if you asked me to read many pages about an old guy having a frustrating argument with an imagined turd, I probably wouldn’t sign on. But by the end, it is through Franzen’s writing that I end up caring about this character and feeling something about him in the final pages. As Michi Kakutani’s 2001 review states, “clearly Mr. Franzen’s novel would have benefited enormously from a strict editing job,” one can’t help but feel the overlong writing is a tool Franzen could do without. But a shorter Franzen book, just wouldn’t be the same, would it.
It is also important to keep this book in context of Franzen’s beginnings as a writer. His influences, the white male writers of the 60s, 70s and 80s, his ambitions to write sharp social commentary, and his later-in-life embrace of the fact that he is, first and foremost, a talented writer. That he finally embraces this by the time of writing The Corrections is a boon to us, his readers. And unlike some of his subsequent work, Franzen rightly chose a topic about which he knew a lot and had a lot to say: the American family.
More than anything else, my affection for this book is grounded in the fact that it accomplishes what I hope some day to accomplish myself. It tells the story of a family in all its deep, colorful, honest, broken, angry, committed, reality. Families are a peculiar institution. No other institution in our life commands such commitment. Franzen stretches this conceit to far reaches and as a result we get a rich story that often reflects families we know, maybe even our own.