Reading Franzen I feel totally crushed in my aspiration of becoming a ‘real’ writer myself: I feel I could never build the incredible psychological tension in the characters, nor could I bring up that amount of detail that makes it all the more powerful and life-like.
I found large parts of the book absolutely gripping, as characters struggle to keep on top of adverse circumstances – whether ordinary family power games, social prudery, or lifetime decisions – while you can feel them heading for imminent crash. The characters themselves are built around failings and psychological, even psychotic, flaws, being paralysed by shame, guilt, and by a ruthless fear of losing face. Such a modern-time set of people!
Apart from the fine psychological observation, the text is also fascinating for its shift between objects and people, physiology and emotions. At times it is objects that are minutely described and given life, at other times it is people who are referred to as if they were a malfunctioning mechanism. Alfred himself, the father, used to be a railway engineer, and the ‘signals’ get to be ambiguous in their reference to railway signalling as well as to the sensorial and mental processing of information.
Ambiguity is everywhere in this book, one of the most powerful around the word ‘corrections’. From corrections of essays at university (Chip as a lecturer), jails being houses of correction, to Chip being his father’s chance to make corrections on his own life. The magic drug Corecktall claims to correct neurological weaknesses and thus make people happy and above all adapted to the real world. The sea is another metaphor just like in Moby Dick, the dark, absorbing, unexplorable space, equal to loss of control, of rationality, of foothold.
The Corrections oozes with significance, with human drama. A book as large as life.