I started this review once already, struggled with it, and have decided to start completely over. The problem was that I was trying overly hard to justify my feelings. The words jumbled out, page after page, full of whining and excuses. I wanted to somehow convey my strong dislike for Franzen's personality, my ambivalence toward much of this book, but my appreciation for its strong moments, and my certainty that it had cemented its status as the best book Franzen will ever write. I felt I had to somehow justify four stars for an author whose pretentious prickness has only catapulted his career. I had to explain that while an author's personality should in no way impact critique of their work, it does; Franzenisms saturates the pages of this novel. The more I tried to justify all my mixed feelings, the more I felt like a pretentious prick.
So, The Corrections. It's not a simple read. It's over inflated and lags in the middle. The characters are intentionally unlikable, but depending on the reader's preferences, some of these characters may be widely loved. Personally, my favorite character was a turd. (Really, I'm not kidding—an actual turd.) Franzen's intelligence is evident in nearly every page; the man can write. There's a crude Shakespearean quality to Franzen's tragic farce. Likely, The Corrections is the most insightful and sensitive work the author will ever create. Yes, it's meant to shock, but that doesn't keep it from shining light on human nature and family dynamics. It takes an old idea (a disastrous family reunion) and makes it interesting. Yet, there's a cloak of arrogance that envelopes it all, making the production feel a bit like a politically-minded hipster soap opera. All in all, it's not worth the hype, in my opinion, but if you read only one Franzen, this is the one.
So I offer a few kind words to a man who has few. Well done, Mr. Franzen. You've written a good novel. You're obviously very intelligent and extremely focused, and for these traits I commend you.