Set around the framework of a mother's wish to bring her fractured family together for one last Christmas before her husband loses his final ounce of dignity and sanity to Parkinson's disease, Franzen's razor-sharp "The Corrections" is an American masterwork. What Franzen has accomplished is truly staggering; savaging contemporary American life and values with fearless abandon, yet doing it all with scalpel-edge precision.
Beyond and beneath the prim cultivated life that matriarch Enid has imagined for her family lies a rotted and diseased root structure born in 3 childhoods littered with off-kilter moments- glimpses of which are doled out periodically by Franzen- as each of the now adult children's- and their parent's - lives play out over the course of the novel. Those early malfunctions and injustices perhaps, we imagine, were seedlings that sprouted chutes inch by inch later in life as we learn more and more of the hidden but omnipresent dark dysfunction in children Gary, Chip and Denise's respective worlds. Perhaps deep down, despite appearances to the contrary and near pathologically concerted efforts to keep up those appearances, Enid does possess some inherent awareness of the damage done as she progressively places more and more significance on achieving one, final, family get together.
There are no shortage of horror novels available- Stephen King is highly prolific after all- yet for my money, there are moments in which Franzen's unblinking portraits of contemporary, American, familial dysfunction are some of the most terrifying reading imaginable. Although I count this as an all time favorite novel, there were, after all, moments- conversations actually- between Gary, his wife and their children- power plays, manipulations and inter-spousal character assassinations- that made it wretchedly unpleasant to read on. Franzen's prose itself is, indeed, razor sharp and crackles and slices with a keenness rarely realized.
If clarity of vision and a fully realized achievement of that vision is the watermark of artistic brilliance, this is one of the brightest gems of the past 10 years. To read this novel and subsequently revisit the opening paragraph is to be dazzled by that brilliance. A National Book Award winner, Pulitzer Prize finalist and absolute must-read.— Jon Fine