THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen

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 Corrections” had “just enough novel-of-paranoia 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 was 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.

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