Doctor Christ-X and the Corrections

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I want to go on record that this is the first appearance of William Gaddis’s US National Book Award winning novel, JR, to appear in any comic strip ever. I feel confident in making this assertion.

It’s possible that this is also the first time the works of Jonathan Franzen have been discussed with any degree of seriousness (um, in this case an extremely low degree of seriousness) in any comic strip ever. Perhaps this is funnier if you’ve read the Corrections? Okay, how many people have read The Corrections, or any book by Jonathan Franzen? WHAT DID YOU THINK?

I’ll start: The Corrections seems, despite its flaws, to be actually impelled by some kind of serious individual pain, and by the kind of moral questioning where you don’t know the answer in advance. Sure, evil drug companies have stolen the patent of a noble working man to disseminate a kind of evil brain drug to the masses, and sure, video games corrupt EVEN NARNIA, but there’s a sense that these are perhaps the best possible roads, and that the characters the book kind of forces us to identify with are really just Luddite scum for resisting the technological corruption of man in the name of happiness. You could make a pretty good case for both sides and the book is ambivalent in the best sense. Contrast with Freedom, which I hell of don’t like: Freedom’s moral dilemmas just sort of exist in a void. The answer to the question of whether mountaintop removal mining to save a single bird species is justified doesn’t seem that interesting to Franzen anymore: the large moral questions loom in the background, but essentially as flavor for the domestic drama, horrible wunderkammer set dressing: kid gets in big trouble selling bad Russian tank parts to US Blackwater-style contractors (that may be wrong; I don’t have the book on me, but something like that); husband faces pressure at work because mountain families refuse to move so that their land can be destructively mined; gentrification divides two families, etc. Think of it in TV Guide synopsis format: “An Occupy Wall Street protest forces Rick and Cindy to reassess their marriage,” “A bad investment in a Far Eastern iPhone sweatshop causes Michael to lose millions, creating tensions with his wife.” Whereas w/ The Corrections: “Incredibly unethical ecstasy-like drug allows Midwestern mom to cope with horribly dissolving marriage” — the social horror is more directly, satisfyingly tied to the situation.

(I also sort of remember writing this a few years ago: http://fictioncircus.com/news.php?id=46&mode=one. It’s a review of Franzen’s STRONG MOTION, whose plot I almost don’t even remember anymore. I think an evil corporation is generating earthquakes? I remember a really good scene with a raccoon living in horrible urban blight. But I stand by pretty much all of that review except the quality of the writing.)

Further: there’s a dejected quality to Freedom, whereas The Corrections had some kind of terrible sense of hope and possibility, like Kobo Abe-level terrible. I just don’t like Freedom. Who likes Freedom, or has any kind of thought about Franzen whatsoever, I guess?

Okay, so on Saturday we get to see where Inez works, plus also a desperate confrontation between Old and Young. Enjoy it!

4 thoughts on “Doctor Christ-X and the Corrections

  1. Well I’m no book reviewer, but from the point of reader enjoyment, I also didn’t like Freedom. I found it a chore to get through, and could find nothing redeeming in the characters. Not that characters have to be likeable, but I tired of whiny Patty pretty quickly. Freedom’s moral dilemmas could of been left out the book entirely, I felt like they don’t have much impact on the characters or the story. The story is really the triangle between Patty, her husband and his best friend.

    Strong Motion was slightly better, I was more interested in the corporate cover up, then the bland main male character. What can I say, I hate it when the main character is so plain and everyman that he has few discerning qualities so I couldn’t care less what he/she thinks or what happens to him/her. The bits with Renee and her co-workers were enjoyable.

    The Corrections was the first Franzen book I read (when it came out), I was engrossed when reading it and pondered upon it afterwards. It felt like a “wow” book at the time, will have to re-read it and see if it holds up. Hopefully the upcoming movie adaptation will not dissapoint.

    Speaking of Freedom, and other books (like those of Neal Stephenson), where the heck are the editors these days?!!! I’m not against thick tomes, but there is such a things as self indulgence that will bore your readership. Editing is a skill, writers should work with a talented editor to hone their novels.

    1. I almost don’t even remember reading Strong Motion, though when I reread my review of it before posting this there were a lot of details I guess I liked — the idea of the mix tape with exactly one song is neat. And yeah, I agree that Freedom was pretty bland — the triangle between Patty and Good but Bland Walter and Cool Sexy Other Guy is just really not interesting to me, and I’m not altogether sure why it was interesting to JF. I like the story of the really driven Republican kid with his creepy girlfriend a lot more, honestly, but there was surprisingly little of it.

      Re Corrections movie adaptation — it got canceled! Which is probably all to the good — they were going to do it as a miniseries, and the book is so completely modular that I was really dubious about that being any good. Corrections was also My First Franzen; I also still like it after having reread it.

      I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU SAY ABOUT EDITORS, ALSO. EDITORS SHOULD RECEIVE MUCH MORE MONEY AND ACCLAIM. That said, I think that the function of an editor is more about getting the work to be clear and effective than it is imposing any restrictions on authorial self-indulgence — it’s their book after all. The only Stephenson books I’ve read are Snow Crash and Diamond Age (the latter of which I HELL OF RECOMMEND), so I can’t comment on like, the Baroque Cycle or anything acknowledged to be Excessive like that, but I know people who swear by it and its excesses. And at a certain point it’s like Stephenson has made his money, his books will continue to sell well no matter what he does, and he can pretty much do whatever he wants. When editing, the primary sin is to impose your own tastes; the goal is to figure out where the author wants to go and try to clear the path for them if they want that, or suggest paths if parts of the book haven’t quite made it to where they need to be.

      Honestly, as much as I am knocking on Freedom, when I was a staff editor I’d have dug it and tried to acquire it if it came across my desk with no name on it. I’m mostly down on Franzen because he’s a REALLY REALLY GOOD WRITER who sometimes/often seems like he’s tricking himself into being less good. I think he’s at his best when he’s writing about spiritual corruption, like the messed up stuff with the Narnia CD-ROMs and the cruise ship with staterooms named after famous gloomy Scandinavian novelists in the Corrections, or the whole notion of selling off Lithuania. What disappointed me so much about Freedom was really how lackluster the spiritual corruption in it was, and how he kind of didn’t seem to care about what was happening to any of the characters at all (as distinct from the way there’s obvious concern for all of the characters in The Corrections), coupled with how the prose is, um, kind of lame compared to his earlier work, all of that combined with the OMG GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL reception the book got. Were I editing it I’d consider it a seriously flawed book by a good writer, not like HIS MASTERPIECE by a seriously long shot. But I do like the guy’s work!

  2. I haven’t read anymore of Franzen’s fiction or essays, will be on the lookout. Is the Twenty-Seventh City worth a read? You’re right about the republican kid and his creepy girlfriend, a much more interesting book would of been centered around them. Hadn’t thought about how much JF cared about his characters, let’s say compared to an author like Joyce Carol Oates.

    Oh yes, The Diamond Age and Snow Crash are wonderful (Zodiac is also good), it’s after that that it all goes wonky. Cryptonomicon was a mess to read, the jumping back and forth through time didn’t work IMO. The Baroque cycle had it’s moments and characters. The main character in the first book, Daniel Waterhouse, is one of those “nothing” characters I complained about previously. The first book was so-so. The second book was a rip roaring adventure story with piracy and war. The third book was not so great. It suffered for a need of an editor, but as you say, best-selling authors can get away with it. Have not read any of his books after that.

    It reminds me how of Laurel K. Hamilton
    made her Anita Blake books more and more erotic/pornographic. Sales went up and she told all her early loyal readers who were unhappy about it to pretty much go to hell. The books weren’t masterpieces, but they were a fun read, now they’re all titillation.

    1. Is Laurel K. Hamilton the one where there are were-swans? I remember reading one of the latter installments of those in the library at one point in college and there was this love triangle between the main character, a half-vampire half-werewolf, and a were-swan, or something like that. The notion of a were-swan is amazing!

      Okay so Twenty-Seventh City — I don’t know if it’s worth a read or not. I like Franzen’s prose, so I read it, but I remember almost literally nothing about it, except that the good parts all involve one of the characters’ repressed Midwestern home life, and he covers that ground a lot better in The Corrections. If you’re a completist, you should go for it, I guess? (I will check out Zodiac now, also — thanks! Freely recommend books if you got ‘em!)

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