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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The only thing I have to say about Jonathan Franzen’s highly successful novel, The Corrections, is to say that reading it is like being forced to listen to a really boring old man tell boring stories, an old man who seemingly hasn’t had a single interesting observation in his entire life, or at least not capable of relating an interesting experience.  To add to this tedium, imagine that you are in a really boring situation while being a captive audience to the old man; perhaps you are waiting to renew your driver’s license.  I walked out of Franzen’s literary DMV at around page 100 (I should explain that DMV stands for Department of Motor Vehicles, a government agency not quite cheery enough to be described as Orwellian).

And of course there is a character in the book who is a writer and also a bit about academia, the two most boring and over-used themes in modern American literature. Note to writers: if you are writing about writers or college professors you need to quit your easy job in academia and get out and fucking find something to write about. Contrast the story of this piece of crap novel with Alone in Berlin which I recently wrote about here.I found myself literally shouting at The Corrections. Why the fuck should I care what kind of paper something is typed on or that the coffee can in which the wife suspects her husband is storing his own piss is from the Yuban brand? I just see this as frivolous detail.

This is the first thing that I have read by the author.  In a Guardian article about ten rules for writing, I thought that Franzen had the weakest examples.

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
- More like the reader is a creative writing graduate student interested in clever word play simply for its own sake.

2 Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
- I don't understand this at all. I can't say that I have ever liked or respected a novel because it was "an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown".

3 Never use the word "then" as a ¬conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
- He has a problem with the word "then" for fuck's sake. I care much more about the scope of a novel than the language.

4 Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
- Many of my favorite books are in the first person. How the fuck can he even say this?

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
- So writers shouldn't bother with research simply because it’s easier than it was?

6 The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than "The Metamorphosis".
-Does anyone know what the hell he is talking about?

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.
- Zola would have disagreed. He went out and worked for his stories, discovered them. Zola's observation in Germinal about the horses in the mines being brought down as colts and living their entire lives underground is something you couldn't invent sitting behind your computer.

8 It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
-He may actually have a point with this one.

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.
-No fucking idea what this means.

In every one of these "rules" it sounds to me the Franzen is trying to be super-clever which is what his writing sounds like to me, a trivial story wrapped up in 24 karat prose.

 Compare Franzen's silly rules with the straight-forward advice offered by Elmore Leonard:

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop.

Or how about this priceless tip from Will Self:

3 Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.

I actually learned that one a long time ago from my younger brother and I have followed his rule ever since.


  1. Oh dear. This is one of the best books I've ever read. Excellent prose, historically vital and very funny (also quite moving). Maybe give it another go in a few months?

  2. I loved it too. It's all satire. He totally trashes the self-importance and self-absorbtion of academia, and goes after the foodies as well. In fact, he takes the piss out of just about everybody. I think you should cool off and give it another chance. (Did you read it in English or in translation? I read part of it in the Spanish translation and I don't think they got the irony.)

  3. I started reading it in English. I will try it again in a few months. I'll admit that he is a good writer I just didn't care about the characters or situations and I really hate it when writers talk about writers or writing. I would have read all of it in Spanish just because I am getting the benefit if improving my vocabulary. Now I'm reading Ventanas de Manhattan by Antonio Muñoz Molina which I have to say is brilliant at times.

  4. Good to others, boring to some. That's your opinion anyway, let's give him the benefit of being a good writer.

    1. I apologize for writing my opinion on my blog. What was I thinking?


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