Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Corrections

Last month in Michigan I was not so much reading The Corrections again as galloping through it at a pace to keep up with the anxious frenzies of the neurotic and endlessly hungry characters. I carried the book with me everywhere, read while I brushed my teeth, held the book open with a jar of Ponds while I dried my hair. But when I carried it down to the stream where the girls played, Randy offered a correction of his own. “Engage!” he called out, then went back to focusing the girls in his viewfinder.

I put the paperback down in the sand right next to me, watched the girls who were content to splash and wade without my help. I didn’t say a word.

It was a moment worthy of the passive aggressions and petty retaliations of Jonathan Franzen’s book. You know how you start to live the book you are currently reading, thinking in the patterns of the narrator, seeing the world through characters’ eyes?

I sat there in the sand, the book inches away from my hand, and stewed. I stewed at the memory of Randy sitting in the car with his Ipod earlier that day while I led the girls down the peach orchard lanes.

Then the lovely parts of the memory took over and I forgot all about the man and his technology. The girls and I picked fat and perfect peaches from ripe clusters on low trees. I was surprised by the effort needed to tug one from its tough stem on the branch. I was amazed by the luscious crunch when I bit into one - the perfectly ripe peach was as crisp as an Asian pear. “Why are the peaches at the store so soft?” I asked Randy later. And why are these magical trees that bear perfect fruit not in every backyard? Sally tells me that the pruning shape is called open center, like a goblet, with lots of space between branches. Pruning seems the skill that separates the farmer from the gardener.

Anyway, The Corrections. Great ideas on every page. Before kids, during my first read, I thought I recognized in-laws who shall remain nameless. This time around, I wince to recognize my own relationships.

I still relish with sick glee the chapter about Gary, the older Lambert son, locked in vicious battle with his wife over which one will be more sympathetically sane and which one will wear the mantle of “clinically depressed.”

Each character of the twisted Lambert family is both a neurotic cartoon and yet utterly recognizable. Contemptible and yet sympathetic! Except the daughter Denise. Her face remains blank to me. Closeted lesbian, executive chef, dutiful daughter, love adventurer? Don’t get her. Her chapter reads like mild Judith Krantz with dated pop culture references, recipes, thrilling sex, descriptions of fancy digs. Forgivable in the company of such other pages.

What did you think of the ending? Does it offer eternal hope or senselessly blind ignorance about what little is left in a wasted life?

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