A seemingly unending stream of word vomit.
I can think of no other way to describe this thing.
I really, really despised almost everything about The Corrections. I finished it solely so that I could write a horrible review and have it be valid.
At no single point before the last 10 pages of this 566page monster did I feel a shred of sympathy with any of the characters. There were several moments where I thought Franzen would have been better off writing dialoguefortheaverageJoe instead of the trumped up and out of place Dawson's Creekesque vocabulary in almost every human interaction. His insistence on using the "25cent word" at every turn made reading the story choppy at best... aggravating and unenjoyable.
I also couldn't help but see the author in a lot of his characters' worst personality traits. Annoying hipsterlecher I'mbetterthancapitalismbutstilldependonit Chip. Whiny toogoodforanyone Gary. Ungrateful I'mabitchbutrequireallyourloveandattention Denise. The parents? Alfred is the only one for whom I felt any sympathy and that didn't happen until the last dregs of the book... and I think maybe even then it was a kneejerk reaction at being so close to the book being over. Enid's issues rubbed me the wrong way for many reasons, not the least of which being that I could see my own mother in her... which means, I suppose, that Enid was probably the most wellrepresented character in the novel.
The secondary characters were almost entirely a sorry lot with personalities to the extreme in any number of directionstoo smart, too stupid, too needy, too plain, too EVERYTHING.
I know that I'll never understand the praise this book received from critics and readers... and I'm ok with that. I do wish, however, that I could meet some of the people who relate it so easily to real life. Meeting them, perhaps, would truly terrify me. My first Franzen.
Really I don't even know how to start this review. I could begin, I suppose, by discussing the pure perfection of his writing. It is REALLY DAMN GOOD. If I could break reviews down into little sections, he'd get 10 stars for his style/technique. Excellent.
On the other hand, I can't give this a full 5 stars. Or can I? Yeah, it was well written. The depth of the characters and the storyline maybe just a hair short of phenomenal. ???
Why do I bother with fiction? I feel guilty, as if I should be learning something instead.
Is the desire to read this type of fiction some sort of voyeuristic fetish? Peek into some fictional character's life and say, "Hell, I've got it good!" Really, there is plenty of nonfiction out there to get you into an attitude of gratitude right quick. (see: books on holocaust, genocide, great depression, etc...)
Do I, as a reader, get anything out of it at all, beyond perhaps some mindless entertainment? Do I have to?
David Foster Wallace once said, "Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being."
And you know, he's right.
In The Corrections, Franzen absolutely nails (not literally) each member of a dysfunctional (average!??!) family. Mom borders on neurotic. Dad is demented. Kids all screwed up in their own way. The following excerpt:"He'd had the sense moments earlier that Caroline was on the verge of accusing him of being depressed. and he was afraid that if the idea he was depressed gained currency, he would forefit the right to his opinions. He would forefit his moral certainties; every word he spoke would become a symptom of disease, he would never again win an arguement." Fricking BRILLIANT. And real.
Somehow Franzen manages to put the "fun" in dysfunctional. Far from "mindless", The Corrections tunes you in to each family member and their flaws. In reading, you may recognize yourself in one of the characters, stop and think, "oh no! I'm that jerk!" Or, in a perhaps better scenario, say, "Ha! That bitch is just like my sister!"
Whatever the case, you KNOW these people Franzen writes about. You work with them. God forbid, you are related to them! But it is real. All the imperfections, the misunderstandings, the yearning, the love, the hate....
It IS about being a human being.
And it is done very damn well.
This is NOT my last Franzen. While reading The Corrections I really understood the meaning of ‘schadenfreude’ because I despised almost every character in this book so much that the more miserable their lives got, the more enjoyment I took from it. And when a shotgun was introduced late in the novel, I read the rest of it with my fingers crossed while muttering "Please please please please please please..." in the hope that at least one of those pitiful shits would end up taking a load of buckshot to the face.
The Lambert’s are a Midwestern family, and while the grown children have all moved to Philadelphia and New York, the parents have remained in St. Jude. The father, Alfred, was a workaholic middle manager for a railroad and he's the kind of joyless repressed bastard that considered all pleasures frivolous and taking a coffee break as a massive character flaw. Now retired, he’s suffering from Parkinson's and dementia. He deserves it.
Enid is the mother. (Seriously, Franzen? Enid? I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life and have never met an Enid. I know you were making a point on how square the old school Midwesterners are, but that‘s pushing it.) She’s a delusional nagging harpy from hell who aims her passive aggressive attacks at whichever family member has recently burst the bubble of whatever fantasy she is currently clinging to. Through most of the book, Enid has her heart set on one last family Christmas at the house in St. Jude, and the evil bitch will stop at nothing to get it.
Gary is the oldest and a successful investment adviser in Philly, but he married a woman who wants all ties severed with his family and has a special way of getting his sons to join her in her efforts. Torn between trying to placate his wife and his mother while letting their denials of reality make him crazy and trying to be 'the responsible one', Gary is running himself ragged to avoid admitting that he’s depressed. Someone should pimp slap him so hard that his fillings fly out of his teeth.
Chip, the middle son, is a waste of skin with a special talent for selfdestruction. He torched his academic career as a professor just as he was about to get tenure by having an affair with a student and then becoming obsessed with her. He’s now a mooch in New York working on a screenplay so horrible that it'd make a Michael Bay movie look good by comparison. He’s also the kind of douche bag who thinks that getting rivets put in his ears and wearing leather pants is cool even though he’s over thirty.
Denise is the one character that I actually had some sympathy for. A daddy’s girl who adopted Alfred’s work ethic, she’s a successful chef of an upscale restaurant, but she’s also got a messy personal life, including trying to figure out her sexuality. At least she’s the one member of this dysfunctional hellspawned family that knows she has issues and tries not to deceive herself any more than most people do.
The weird thing is that even though I loathed the Lamberts and almost every supporting character, too, that I actually enjoyed this book. I usually can’t stand stories where all the characters’ problems are selfinflicted emotional wounds due to a basic refusal to admit and face reality. However, I have to admit that I found this compelling reading. Maybe I was into it for all the wrong reasons. Namely, that I hated the Lamberts so much that their continued suffering brought sweet tears of joy to my eyes. That’s probably not what Franzen intended, but he had to create some incredibly vivid characters and do justice to their pathetic lives to make me hate them so very, very much.
“And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight—isn't that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes except that you see things differently and you're less fearful and less anxious and generally stronger as a result: isn't it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you've experienced before? You see things more clearly and you know that you're seeing them more clearly. And it comes to you that this is what it means to love life, this is all anybody who talks seriously about God is ever talking about. Moments like this.”
The Lamberts are experiencing corrections. Not economic ones like the rest of the country, although money does underline everything they worry about. The whole family, in a myriad of ways, is each on the verge of their very own unique selfdestruction.
“THE CORRECTION, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle let down, a yearlong leakage of value from key financial markets, a contraction too gradual to generate headlines and too predictable to seriously hurt anybody but fools and the working poor.”
There may be big events that finally shove us forward, backwards or sideways, but in the aftermath most of us can find, with some selfevaluation, that the crash in our lives was preceded by a series of miniature inadvisable decisions. Sometimes we have to crash to correct.
Alfred is the father, a Kansan, who believed in hard work and honest labor. He has always been moody, selfcontained, in many ways... unknowable. At the age of 75 he has come down with Parkinson’s and is quickly becoming a burden, impossible to bear, for his wife Enid and his kids. He has trouble controlling his bowels and this manifests itself in an almost comic, if it weren’t so tragic, series of delusions of talking turds pursuing him relentlessly through the corridors of his own mind. He was an amateur chemist and made an important discovery that for unknowable reasons (it will be revealed later in the book) refuses to fight for his rights to be richly rewarded. It drives his oldest son Gary nuts.
”Gary didn’t know which version of Alfred made him angrier: the spiteful old tyrant who’d made a brilliant discovery in the basement and cheated himself out of a fortune, or the clueless basement amateur who’d unwittingly replicated the work of real chemists, spent scarce family money to file and maintain a vaguely worded patent, and was now being tossed a scrap from the table…. Both versions incensed him.
I admit there are several moments when I too felt the urge to strangle Alfred. He is from a generation and geography where a man makes decisions, and never feels the need to explain himself. He doesn’t care how angry or upset you are. Tears nor threats will move him to give you the reasons that led him to his decisions.
Gary is an investment banker in Philadelphia. He has a beautiful wife named Caroline and three sons. He is fighting with his wife more regularly than normal, and she insists that he is clinically depressed. He believes, and is not just paranoid about this issue, that his wife is manipulating events behind his back, subtly turning his sons against him. She denies everything, concedes nothing. He finds her in pain from her back and realizes as angry as he is….
”That her face was beautiful and that the agony in it was mistakable for ecstasythat the sight of her doubledover and mudspattered and redcheeked and vanquished and wildhaired on the Persian rug turned him on; that some part of him believed her denials and was full of tenderness for heronly deepened his feeling of betrayal.”
He has a haughty disdain for nearly everyone. He talks down to his mother. He is furious and almost unhinged with his father. He is dismissive of his siblings. His lust for his wife is inspired as much by his desire to try and control her as it is about physical contact. Her fights with him heightens all kinds of feelings of desire. He is almost snobbishly gleeful in his fidelity to her, but as he revels in his superiority there are also other issues knocking around in his head.
”It occurred to Gary, as the young estate planner leaned into him to let a raft of sweltering humanity leave the elevator, as she pressed her hennaed head against his ribs more intimately than seemed strictly necessary, that another reason he’d remained faithful to Caroline through twenty years of marriage was his steadily growing aversion to physical contact with other human beings. Certainly he was in love with fidelity; certainly he got an erotic kick out of adhering to principle; but somewhere between his brain and his balls a wire was also perhaps coming loose, because when he mentally undressed and violated this little redhaired girl his main thought was how stuffy and undisinfected he would find the site of his infidelitya coliformbacterial supply closet, a Courtyard Marriott with dried semen on the walls and bedspreads…. each site over warm and underventilated and suggestive of genital warts and chlamydia in its own unpleasant wayand what a struggle it would be to breath, how smothering her flesh, how squalid and foredoomed his efforts not to condescend…”
So really he is faithful because it is unhygienic to cheat.
Chip is the middle child, a teacher at a college when we first meet him. He involves himself with a student who pursued him relentless not so much out of sexual attractiveness, but that she needed his help on a paper for another class. Classic barter system; that unfortunately for Chip, is discovered. After he is fired he writes a breast obsessed first draft of a screenplay called The Academy Purple. It is really horrible. He loses yet another girlfriend, Julia who's boss decides that she needs to upgrade boyfriends. Julia has a husband from Lithuanian who needs someone with Chip’s skills. (???) With zero prospects in NY Chip decides to fly to Lithuania to help defraud American investors; greed can always be exploited.
After cratering over the loss of his young college lover that left him snuffling his furniture for any residual essence of her nether regions, Chip is getting over lost girlfriends quicker helped by fantasy detours about a bartender he just met.
”If he couldn’t get Julia back, he wanted in the worst way to have sex with the bartender. Who looked about thirtynine herself. He wanted to fill his hands with her smoky hair. He imagined that she lived in a rehabbed tenement on East Fifth, he imagined that she drank a beer at bedtime and slept in faded sleeveless tops and gym shorts, that her posture was weary, her navel unassumingly pierced, her pussy like a seasoned baseball glove, her toenails painted the plainest basic red. He wanted to feel her legs across his back, he wanted to hear the story of her fortyodd years.”
Things don’t go well for Chip in Lithuania, but he was so damn close.
”He didn’t understand what had happened to him. He felt like a piece of paper that had once had coherent writing on it but had been through the wash. He felt roughened, bleached, and worn out along the fold lines.”
Denise is the youngest sibling, a successful chef who finds herself the main negotiator between her parents and her brothers. She has a history of being attracted to older men which probably has something to do with her uneasy relationship with her father. After her marriage to a colleague, twice her age, falls to pieces she is done with men and decides to try her luck with women.
With mixed results.
She gets an opportunity of a lifetime when she meets a young entrepreneur, a member of the recently wealthy who decides he wants to open a restaurant. He wants Denise to be his chef and he wants her in his bed. She resists, barely, intent on not letting sex destroy this opportunity for her. Kudos for trying to break a bad pattern. Good thinking...but sleeping with his wife nullifies all that careful arms length tango she carried out so well with the husband.
”Her car was like a tongue gliding down the melty asphalt streets, her feet like twin tongues licking the pavement, the front door of the house on Panama Street like a mouth that swallowed her, the Persian runner in the hall outside the master bedroom like a tongue beckoning, the bed in its cloak of comforter and pillows a big soft tongue begging to be depressed, and then.”
The problem with Denise is she has a hard time resisting people who find her attractive. She enjoys the fact that older men really appreciate her shapely body. The sexual attraction that males and females have for her compels her forward in a relationship long past the time when any of it is still pleasurable for her. She loses everything for something she really didn’t want in the first place.
I haven’t even gotten to the mother Enid. She is at that point in her life where she is ready to go do things and finds her husband ”moldering and devaluing” before her very eyes. He is an albatross around her neck; and yet, she still loves him. She desperately clings to the idea of the whole Lambert family coming together one more time in St. Jude for Christmas.
If you are someone who likes to read books where you like the characters you might struggle with this book. I find that a lot of people who say they don’t like this book abandon it before completion.
It is natural to want someone in a story that you can root for.
As Jonathan Franzen unpacks these characters he exposes those things that are generally hidden beneath our clothes like a nasty wart near a nipple or cellulite on our butt cheeks. The type of flaws we would prefer to be seen in halflight, not the glaring brightness of daylight. I started out not liking any of these characters, their flaws were dominating their inherently good qualities, but as Franzen so deftly unspools more revelations I became more and more sympathetic.
What we have to remember is that none of us knows someone’s whole history. We get pieces and sometimes those are the best pieces, and sometimes we only see someone at their worst moment. We never have the whole story that might make sense out of the senseless. We have a tendency to ignore our own flaws and castigate those same flaws in others. You might be starting to understand where I’m going with all this. These characters are human, maybe too human, but that could be because Jonathan Franzen may have wrote one of the most honest books you’ll ever read.
If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten Franzen’s writing is impeccable. Not only does his understanding of complex, familial relationships fascinate me, but his ability to capture these characters—all five of them, I might add—with such depth...I think that is what really drew me in as a reader. I mean, these are people who are so flawed emotionally and so utterly selfish inherently, and yet each of them has this capacity for loving one another even while recognizing their inability to stand each other for more than five minutes at a time: in a sense they are more human than most humans. And Franzen knows how to write a sentence, my God. All this book did was remind me why I love to read.
Honestly, I try to give five stars sparingly, but this one I fully endorse. I think what makes it better than Freedom is that I walked away from this with a knot in my stomach (I really felt something here!). Seven yearold Chip being left alone at the dinner table until it was late enough for him to fall asleep on his placemat bothered me. Juxtapose that with the tenderness Chip shows his dad toward the end of the novel, and you start to wonder whether this man was ever really the emotionally unavailable tyrant that you thought he was. Either way, this just serves as a huge reminder for me to appreciate the way things are now while my kids are still young, because it’s probably not always going to be this simple. JONATHAN FRANZEN'S TOP TEN RULES FOR WRITERS (as given to The Guardian on 20 Feb 2010)
with additional commenty comments by me :
1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
Hmm, well, maybe. I can't think Hugh Selby had very friendly thoughts when he wrote his brilliant Last Exit to Brooklyn, it reads like he wants to shove all of us into a landfill site and have done with the human race. But quite often that's a good attitude for a writer to have. Some books you walk around and poke sticks at, they're designed that way; some books you take your machete and hack into the meat and the filth and the hell with any bystanders getting splattered, they shouldn't be bystanding so close if their fine suits mean that much to them. Some books you can have round for tea with mama. So I disagree with rule 1.
2 Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
Garrison Keillor musta got a real fat wad for Lake Wobegon then. Likewise Dickens. I'm not sure what this rule really means. Maybe it's just like a tie with a drawing of a fish on it.
3 Never use the word "then" as a conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tonedeaf writer's nonsolution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
Okay JF okay. Deep breathsput your head between your legs.
4 Write in the third person unless a really distinctive firstperson voice offers itself irresistibly.
AgreedI recently jacked in a novel because I found to my horror that it was written in the SECOND person. You do this, you say that. Nooooooooooooo! That's just wrong. Only one book gets away with that, which is An American Tragedy by Theodore Drieser, which is quite brilliant. But after that oneno second person! You is fired!
(Now... E Annie Proulxlook away now!)
5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
Naw, I think I see what he's getting at but naw. If you marshall your research well, you create a world, you're doing good. Who was that woman who lived in a box in England and wrote about Alaska? I reviewed it toomy memory is going down the drain. Ah yes, The Tenderness of Wolves. Anyway, that was pretty good. So no to rule 5.
6 The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than "The Metamorphosis".
Sounds like bollocky bollocks to me. Does this actually mean anything?
7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.
Ah, grasshopper, you have much to learn. Come on, JF, you're a great writer, don't bullshit us.
8 It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
Also wrong because these days employers can firewall all porn and gambling and social networking sites. (But here, they don't think of Goodreads as a social networking site, so shhhh, don't tell them....!)
9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
He's galumphing again.
10 You have to love before you can be relentless
That's from a Christmas cracker, i bet.
Anyway, The Corrections is one of the few books which made me want to find out what the guy wrote next, which was Freedom (what a crap title).
The Corrections has one really naff section, where it turns into a stupid farce about postSoviet Lithuania and gangsters and stuff, really bad. Otherwise I thought it was tough, tender, relentless even, but sadly, full of interesting verbs. Fail yourself, Jonathan.
An open letter to my former copy of The Corrections:
First I want to tell you that it isn’t you, it’s me. People and books grow apart just like people and people grow apart. I remember years ago when I read you that there were certain things about you that I really liked; but the truth is, I just wasn’t really that into you. Yeah, that little stunt with Oprah was pretty cute, and I recall we had a laugh, but I’m just at that point in my life where I need to make space for new experiences – open myself up to what other potentials are out there. And you’re kinda crowding me a bit.
I know you asked me “Where did it all go wrong?” I could hear your muffled whine from the trunk as I drove you with the other books to Goodwill. At first, I wished that I had put you at the bottom of the bag beneath the crushing weight of the duplicate copy of Shaw’s works and the crap translation of Les Miserables. But that’s just being petty. I’ll answer your question honestly. Some books, like people, have a character flaw. Yours, however, is an author flaw. I’ve just found myself more and more baffled by the man who crafted you. The tipping point came last week when I read Ben Marcus’s piece referencing your author and that was really the final straw. Don’t take this that you are terrible, because you’re not. It’s just that I personally think that your author is, and I don’t want to live in the literary world he wishes to create. Thus, the breakup.
Over the years you’ve been with me, my friends have changed. I know that you’ve been less than happy about this. I’ve seen the way that you scoff at all of those Christine BrookeRose novels on the shelf near you. Across the library there are now two whole shelves of Vollmann, growing to three. I made it clear that none of your family will be welcome in my house, so you’ve been reduced to crossing your arms and pouting while I’ve invited in Pynchon, Joyce, Gaddis, Gass, McElroy, Marcus. You started claiming that I hate you, but I don’t. Those three stars are really three.
So trust me, this is the best thing for both of us. Until you find a new home I think you’ll like it here. Before leaving the Goodwill I browsed amongst their book selection and saw 27 of your identical twins here. Perhaps you’ll be able to pass the time with them sharing stories about how each of you was dumped.
The critics loved The Corrections. Published in 2001, it won the National Book Award for fiction for that year and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize a year later. It also won or was nominated for a number of other prestigious literary prizes.
David Gates wrote in his glowing review in the New York Times that the book had “just enough novelofparanoia touches so Oprah won’t assign it and ruin Franzen’s street cred.”
Wrong, David. Oprah not only chose it for her book club but went so far as to proclaim it “the great American novel.” Franzen, who recognized that his book’s selection by Oprah meant that sales would sharply increase, was nevertheless ambivalent about the situation because he believed that heretofore her selections had been on the “schmaltzy” side. Consequently, when he voiced his feelings in several interviews Oprah withdrew her invitation to have him as a guest on her show (And the dust cover of my hardback copy does not feature her stamp of approval, which had been embossed on earlier copies of the book.). Of course, the publicity engendered by the tempest in a teapot may have had as much of a positive impact on sales as his appearance on her show would have had. But perhaps he did salvage his “street cred.” I hope so.
So how is it that I would give such a heralded book two out of five stars? I’ll answer that, but first here is another quote from David Gates’ review: “If you don’t end up liking each one of Franzen’s people, you probably just don’t like people.”
My answer for the two stars is I didn’t like any of the people. I didn’t like the father, the mother (I did feel some pity for her, but I can’t say I liked her.), the older son (or especially his wife), the younger son, or the daughter (At first I liked her, but only because I didn’t know her. When I did get to know her, I found her to be the most unlikable of the entire crew, except for the older son’s wife.).
Is this because, in Gates’ words, I “probably just don’t like people”? No, it is because I just don't like THESE people or for that matter, any of their friends or associates. There was not a single person that I could pull for – not one. And after 568 pages, I not only don’t like the people, I don’t like the book either.
The two stars were for the writing (otherwise it would have been one), and even then, there were times I wasn’t crazy about the writing either. For example: “…Susy Ghosh asked the table in a voice like hair in a shampoo commercial.” (p. 326) I’m still trying to figure out what the hell that means. The Corrections Srie TVAlloCin The Corrections Est Une Srie TV De Noah Baumbach Et Scott Rudin Avec Chris Cooper Alfred Lambert , Dianne Wiest Enid Lambert Retrouvez Toutes Les News Et Les Vidos De La Srie TheThe Corrections FilmAlloCin Dcouvrez Toutes Les Informations Sur The Corrections, Les Vidos Et Les Dernires Actualits The Corrections Poche Jonathan Franzen Achat LivreThe Corrections Rsum Framed By Matriarch Enid Lambert S Attempts To Gather Her Three Grown Children Back Home For Christmas, The Corrections Examines Their Lives Enid S Husband Alfred, Sinking Into Dementia, Her Sons Banker Gary And Writer Chip Now In Lithuania And Daughter Denise, A Chef, Busily Re Evaluating Her Sexual IdentityThe Corrections Franzen, Jonathan Livres The Corrections A Novel Recent Picador Highlights Et Plus De Huit Millions D Autres Livres Sont Disponibles Pour Le Kindle DEn Savoir Plus Livres Anglais Et Trangers Les Corrections Wikipdia Les Corrections Titre Original The Corrections Est Un Roman De L Auteur Amricain Jonathan Franzen Publi Enchez Farrar, Straus And Giroux, Et En , En Traduction Franaise Par Remy Lambrechts, Aux Ditions De L Olivier The Corrections Traduction En Franais ExemplesIn Some Embodiments The Corrections Are For Line Concentrators Dans Certains Modes De Ralisation, Les Corrections Portent Sur Des Concentrateurs De Ligne This Is Where The Corrections Should Apply C Est Ce Niveau Que Les Corrections Devraient S Appliquer The Corrections Wikipedia Freedom A friend once told me that Jonathan Franzen has been quoted as saying he deliberately rips off influential latecentury American authors such as Pynchon, DeLillo and Roth, but tries to make the prose less difficult, more easily consumed.*
Leaving aside for a moment the irony of that statement in light of his outrage over the Oprah thing, that is stupid. Those authors are not great because their writing is accessible when the complexity is removed.
It was when one of the main characters in The Corrections was talking to a hallucinated turd that I thought, I should just put this down and take a stab at Against the Day, or reread Gravity's Rainbow where a (literal) shit scene can actually be hilarious and fascinating.
In addition to weakpynchonian characters (human and fecal), this novel suffers from a lack of strict editing (too many peripheral characters, too many inconsequential subsubsubplots), from unsympathetic characters (I don't really know what the point is if everyone is horrible and always has and always will hate or be spiteful to everyone around them), from an inconsistent, sudden ending (last chapter: no one will ever change. epilogue: everyone changed and is now charitable of heart!), from an irritatinglyrendered main theme (we all try to CORRECT ourselves and one another but we are ultimately unable), and from its own determined effort to be Epic (even a glowing review I found of this book said Franzen might as well have called it "American (Something)"; he compares one of the settings to the rest of the country in the first paragraph, for god's sake).
The "misery of aging" theme was effective, and I appreciated the exploration of a marriage that was bad for no more complicated a reason than that the husband and wife weren't right for one another. Otherwise I had no use for Franzen and his truckloads of loathing.
* I wrote this review in 2007 and no longer recall being given this quote. It's been rightly pointed out since that I shouldn't have used it without a citation (and should have been skeptical about its authenticity). But this book still sucks.