Study Guide

The Corrections

By Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections Introduction

In 2001, Jonathan Franzen did what no one had done before, and no one's done since—he won a war with Oprah.

His third novel, The Corrections, was selected to be part of Oprah's Book Club, which is usually a one-way ticket to massive sales. But Franzen worried that the mainstream recognition might alienate readers, a concern he made clear during interviews. Queen O was not pleased (to say the least) and rescinded her invitation. And though she and Franzen eventually made up, it wasn't before The Corrections went on to massive success all by itself.

See, Oprah wasn't the only person impressed by the book. Her book club selection was only one of several accolades the book received, including the National Book Award for Fiction and James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

The warm welcome The Corrections received is perhaps due to the fact that the book is both deeply personal and socially relevant. The plot follows the Lambert family as they struggle to define their identities in a hectic modern world. Chip has been fired from his teaching job after sleeping with a student; his sister, Denise, is questioning her sexuality after years of confusion; and Gary, the eldest brother, is simply going crazy. As their father's health declines, their mother makes an important decision: She wants the family to come home for one last Christmas.

Although this might seem rather straightforward (it's definitely been the premise of a movie or two), Franzen takes readers on so many twists and turns that instead, at times, it's dizzying. Though anchored by relatable characters, the terrain this book traverses is often anything but familiar, whether we're talking about the newly created business-state of Lithuania Inc., where ambitious politicians are using the Internet to con American investors, or a scenic Norwegian cruise that lands readers in one of Alfred's poop-obsessed hallucinations.

Yes, you read that all right.

But this is what makes The Corrections so readable. It's half knee-slapping satire, half emotional family drama, and all together, it's a completely one-of-a-kind book.

What is The Corrections About and Why Should I Care?

We're going to blow the lid off the biggest secret of the adult world, so listen up: Everyone is insecure. See, adults like to pretend that they have everything together, but the list of people who actually do is pretty short. It's probably just the Dalai Lama and Beyoncé, by our estimation.

Trust us when we say that the halls of a high school have nothing on the busy streets of a city. That guy over there? He's playing the role of the businessman but is really just a scared kid inside. That beautiful woman? She's fronting the part of a happy wife but secretly wishing she were with someone else. And that dog? Well, he just wants to be a cat.

As usual, Shakespeare says it best: The whole world is a stage, and we are just players.

While The Corrections tackles many different subjects, the core of the book is all about insecurity—the little lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, to fit in with our peers, or to achieve our personal goals. But here's the thing: these seemingly insignificant lies always catch up with us in time. The Corrections shows some of the consequences of this and might even help you feel more comfortable in your own skin.

Listen, this book will make you laugh, cry, and think—usually at the same time. This is only fitting, since The Corrections is all about embracing the contradictions, not, you know, correcting them.

The Corrections Resources

WEBSITES

Franzen Online
Although the site isn't updated by the notoriously computer-phobic Franzen, it's regularly updated with new content and media appearances from the author.

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

The Corrections (TV Series)
Although this television version of The Corrections didn't end up getting picked up by HBO and remains unreleased, it's nice to think about what could have been. The pilot episode was directed by Noah Baumbach and starred Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Jonathan Franzen, The Art of Fiction No. 207
The Paris Review's "The Art of Fiction" interview series is as prestigious as they come, having featured in-depth interviews with legends like Hemingway and Faulkner. This extended conversation with Franzen is no exception.

Franzen on the Books He Loves and Loathes
Which science fiction novel does Franzen rank among his favorites? How many pages of Moby-Dick could he get through before giving up? Click the link to find out.

Jonathan Franzen Rushes Over To Guy On Subway...
Do you think we'd ever miss an opportunity to slip an article from The Onion in here? Franzen's seemingly constant obliviousness makes him the perfect target for a good-natured ribbing.

VIDEO

Jonathan Franzen on "The Leonard Lopate Show" Book Club
Franzen sits down with WNYC for a revealing chat, discussing everything from his teenage love for sci-fi to his everyday writing habits.

Jonathan Franzen on Midwestern Values
The idea of the Midwest plays a large part in The Corrections, and this brief video gets to the heart of Franzen's feelings on his place of birth.

Jonathan Franzen: What Makes a Family Dysfunctional?
Check out this excerpt from a "Forum Book Club" discussion featuring Franzen's thoughts of family dysfunction and why he hates that term.

AUDIO

Jonathan Franzen on Fresh Air
In this interview, Franzen discusses his thoughts on the state of the modern novel, the importance of satire, and—yes—his reaction to the whole Oprah saga.

Jonathan Franzen with The Guardian Book Club
This is a great interview for people whose love for Franzen is only matched by their love for British accents. All jokes aside, Franzen reveals a great deal about the novel's structure and themes in this compelling conversation.

IMAGES

Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace
Franzen is often associated with fellow novelist and friend David Foster Wallace, as they often investigated similar themes in their work. Franzen is the bespectacled man with long hair to the left; Foster-Wallace is the bespectacled man with long hair to the right.

St. Jude
St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and the namesake for the suburban community whence the Lamberts came.