Friday, September 25, 2009
But Would You Read It Again?
I loved Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, which has now been named "best book of the millenium" by the folks at The Millions. This novel about a paterfamilias who believes there is only one way of doing things, children who seem to go all directions at once, and a society that is forever bent on improving, correcting, remastering, and smoothing out every flaw was both a superb family novel and a wonderful literary performance that delivered five thoroughly memorable characters, whose names I've somehow managed to remember: the parents Alfred and Enid Lambertand their children Gary, Denise and Chip.
That's saying a lot for a book I read eight years ago. I thought it was in some ways a brave book, too: brave in that Jonathan Franzen pushed his talent as far as it would go, sometimes coming up with pure gold and sometimes not. I admired even the bad sentences or the sometimes florid or tasteless details, because you got the feeling Franzen was trying to go as far as he could. I admired his ambition and range, his inspired sense of domestic life and his grand taste for Gogolian mischief on an international scale. (There's a crazy subplot involving Lithuania that involves a con man who seemed to be based on Chichikov in Dead Souls.)
On the other hand -- I'm less sure that it's a book I'd want to read again, which I tend to regard as the high-water mark when people are passing out superlatives. With great books, there's always a sense that you missed something, either because this particular landscape offered too much to take in, or because the book left you with several huge and perhaps contradictory thoughts. Maybe it's a book that invites multiple interpretations.
I didn't get any of this with The Corrections, and I wonder if anyone has, if anyone has felt pulled to sit through it more than once, and if it has anything new to offer that wasn't apparent before.