Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I was inspired to pick up Franzen’s The Corrections after reading a comment about books and alcohol on the excellent Henry’s World of Booze blog recommending his latest novel, Freedom. Now, I do actually own a copy of Freedom, although I must confess I’ve not read it yet, but could recall enough of this earlier novel to scrape together a post. Here goes...

The book focuses on the Lamberts, a somewhat staid and increasingly dysfunctional family from the Midwest. Patriarch Alfred is succumbing to Parkinson’s Disease, his wife Enid barely coping with his behaviour, which was difficult enough to begin with, and with that of her three children, Gary, Chip and Denise, who have all fled to the East Coast and have all failed to make their parents proud. As the family disintegrates around her, Enid determines that they will have one last family Christmas together.

All three offspring seem partial to a spot to drink, but I particularly remember Gary’s attempts to barbecue the family supper and trim the garden hedge after half a bottle of vodka. A high earning banker, Gary is depressed and paranoid, convinced that his wife and kids are spying on him. Admittedly, knocking out three lethally strong martinis one after another isn’t going to help matters:

He needed to sleep well tonight for at least six hours. To accomplish this, he planned to drink two vodka martinis and hit the sack before ten. He upended the vodka bottle over a shaker of ice and brazenly let it glug and glug, because he, a veep at CenTrust, had nothing to be ashamed of in relaxing after a hard day’s work. He started a mesquite fire and drank the martini down. Like a thrown coin in a wide, teetering orbit of decay, he circled back into the kitchen and managed to get the meat ready, but he felt too tired to cook it. Because Caroline and Caleb had paid no attention to him when he made the first martini, he now made a second, for energy and general bolsterment, and officially considered it his first. Battling the vitreous lensing effects of a vodka buzz, he went out and threw meat on the grill. Again the weariness, again the deficit of every friendly neurofactor overtook him in plain view of his entire family he made a third (officially: a second) martini and drank it down. Through the window he observed that the grill was in flames.

Nothing that can’t be mended with a bucket of water, even it if does render the meat inedible. Trying to masticate scorched but still raw chicken, Gary is needled into action by his wife. He decides that now would be an appropriate time to trim the hedge that he’s been meaning to sort out. It all goes well until he realises that he has to move the ladder to get to the last twelve inches. He leans across instead:

The gentle blow, the almost stingless brush or bump, that he then delivered to the meaty palm part of his right thumb proved, on inspection to have made deep and heavily bleeding hole that in the best of all possible worlds an emergency physician would have looked at. But Gary was nothing if not conscientious. He knew he was too drunk to drive himself to Chestnut Hill Hospital, and he couldn’t ask Caroline to drive him there without raising awkward questions regarding his decision to climb a ladder and operate a power tool while intoxicated, which would collaterally entail admitting how much vodka he’d drunk before dinner and in general paint the opposite of the picture of Good Mental Health that he’d intended to create by coming out to trim the hedge.

Pishing blood all over the house, he wraps himself up in toilet paper and towels before going to get something to clean up the mess:

He went to the kitchen for a bucket and a mop, and there, in the kitchen was the liquor cabinet. Well, he opened it. By holding the vodka bottle in his right armpit he was able to unscrew the cap with his left hand. And as he was raising the bottle, as he was tilting his head to make a late small withdrawal from the rather tiny balance that remained, his gaze drifted over the top of the cabinet door and he saw the camera.

His son Caleb has been working on a CCTV project and the house is all wired up. Needless to say, Gary’s impending collapse is duly hastened. Still, things could be worse. His mother might ring the next day to say that his father has just fallen off the side of a cruise ship into the ocean...


  1. An enjoyable read The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen . loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

  2. Thank you for the comment! I came across the first chapter of this book in a newspaper and was so taken by it that I bought myself a copy. Definitely one I can recommend.