The Corrections

Last updated

The Corrections
First edition cover
Author Jonathan Franzen
Cover artistJacket design by Lynn Buckley.
Photograph: Willinger / FPG
CountryUnited States
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
September 1, 2001
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages568 pp (first edition, hc)
ISBN 0-374-12998-3 (first)
OCLC 46858728
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3556.R352 C67 2001
Preceded by Strong Motion  
Followed by Freedom  

The Corrections is a 2001 novel by American author Jonathan Franzen. It revolves around the troubles of an elderly Midwestern couple and their three adult children, tracing their lives from the mid-20th century to "one last Christmas" together near the turn of the millennium. The novel was awarded the National Book Award in 2001 [1] and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2002.


The Corrections was published to wide acclaim from literary critics for its characterization and prose. While the novel's release preceded the September 11 terrorist attacks by ten days, many have interpreted The Corrections as having prescient insight into the major concerns and general mood of post-9/11 American life, and it has been listed in multiple publications as one of the greatest novels of the 21st century. [2] [3] [4]

Plot summary

The novel shifts back and forth through the late 20th century, intermittently following spouses Alfred and Enid Lambert as they raise their children Gary, Chip, and Denise in the traditional Midwestern suburb of St. Jude, and the lives of each family member as the three children grow up, distancing themselves and living on the East Coast. Alfred, a rigid and strict patriarch who worked as a railroad engineer, has developed Parkinson's and shows increasingly unmanageable symptoms of dementia. Enid takes out her frustrations with him by attempting to impose her traditional judgments on her adult children's lives, to their annoyance.

Their eldest son, Gary, is a successful but increasingly depressive and alcoholic banker living in Philadelphia with his wife, Caroline, and their three young sons. When Enid attempts to persuade Gary to bring his family to St. Jude for Christmas, Caroline is reluctant, and turns Gary's sons against him and Enid, worsening his depressive tendencies. In return, Gary attempts to force his parents to move to Philadelphia so that Alfred may undergo an experimental neurological treatment that he and Denise learn about.

Also living in Philadelphia, their youngest child Denise finds growing success as an executive chef despite Enid's disapproval and persistent scrutiny of her personal life, and is commissioned to open a new restaurant. Simultaneously impulsive and a workaholic, Denise begins affairs with both her boss and his wife, and though the restaurant is successful, she is fired when this is discovered. Flashbacks to her childhood show her responding to her repressed upbringing by beginning an affair with one of her father's subordinates, a married railroad signals worker.

The middle son, Chip, is an unemployed academic living in New York City following his termination as a tenure-track university professor due to a sexual relationship with a student. Living on borrowed money from Denise, Chip works obsessively on a screenplay, but finds no success or motivation to pay off his debts. Following a rejection of his screenplay, Chip takes a job from his girlfriend's estranged husband Gitanas, a friendly but corrupt Lithuanian government official, later moving to Vilnius and working to defraud American investors over the Internet.

As Alfred's condition worsens, Enid attempts to manipulate all of her children into going to St. Jude for Christmas, with increasing desperation. Initially only Gary and Denise are present, Gary having failed to convince his wife or children, while Chip is delayed by a violent political conflict in Lithuania, eventually arriving late after being attacked and robbed of all his savings. Denise inadvertently discovers that her father had known of her teenaged affair with his subordinate, and had kept his knowledge a secret to protect her privacy, at great personal cost. After a disastrous Christmas morning together, the three children are dismayed by their father's condition, and Alfred is finally moved into a nursing home.

As Alfred's condition deteriorates in care, Chip stays with Enid and visits his father frequently while dating a doctor, eventually having twins with her. Denise leaves Philadelphia and moves to New York to work at a new restaurant where she is much happier. Enid, freed of her responsibilities and long-time frustrations with Alfred, slowly becomes a more open-minded person, and enjoys a healthier involvement in her children's and grandchildren's lives, finally stating that she is ready to make some changes in her life.


The title of The Corrections refers most literally to the decline of the technology-driven economic boom of the late nineties. Franzen makes this clear at the beginning of the book's final chapter, also titled "The Corrections":

The Correction, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle let-down, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets...

(On a more abstract level, the title is an homage to William Gaddis' The Recognitions .) [5]

This economic correction parallels the simultaneous "corrections" that Franzen's characters make to their own lives in the novel's final pages. Franzen has said that "the most important corrections of the book are the sudden impingements of truth or reality on characters who are expending ever larger sums of energy on self-deception or denial." [6] Enid becomes more flexible in her worldview and less submissive to her husband's authority, and Chip begins a more mature relationship with a woman, simultaneously reconciling with his father. Gary, the only central character who fails to learn from his mistakes and grow during the course of the novel, loses a lot of money as technology stocks begin to decline.

Another key theme in the book is America's transition from an industrial economy to an economy based largely on the financial, high-tech and service sectors. Alfred, a railroad engineer with a pension and a deep loyalty to his company, embodies the old economic order of mid-twentieth century America. His children, a chef, an investment banker, and a professor/internet entrepreneur, embody the new economic order at the turn of the millennium. Franzen depicts this economic transition most concretely in his descriptions of Denise's workplace, an abandoned Philadelphia coal plant converted into a trendy, expensive restaurant.

The narrative of Chip's involvement with Gitanas' attempt to bring the country of Lithuania to the market – "" on the internet – comments on unrestrained capitalism and the privileges and power of the wealthy while meaningful distinctions between private and public sectors disappear. "The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainments and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence."

The book addresses conflicts and issues within a family that arise from the presence of a progressive debilitating disease of an elder. As Alfred's dementia and parkinsonism unfold mercilessly, they affect Enid and all three children, eliciting different and, over time, changing reactions. Medical help and hype – the latter in the form of the investigatory method “Corecktall” – do not provide a solution. At the end, Alfred refuses to eat and dies, the ultimate “correction” of the problem.[ original research? ]


The novel won the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction [1] and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, [7] was nominated for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award, and was shortlisted for the 2003 International Dublin Literary Award. According to John Leonard, the novel explores the generation gap and the grasp of one generation on another in a way that reminds you of "why you read serious fiction in the first place". [8] In 2005, The Corrections was included in TIME magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. [9] In 2006, Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation." [10] In 2009, website The Millions polled 48 writers, critics, and editors, including Joshua Ferris, Sam Anderson, and Lorin Stein; [11] the panel voted The Corrections the best novel since 2000 "by a landslide". [12]

The novel was a selection of Oprah's Book Club in 2001. Franzen caused some controversy when he publicly expressed his ambivalence at his novel having been chosen by the club due to its inevitable association with the "schmaltzy" books selected in the past. [13] As a result, Oprah Winfrey rescinded her invitation to him to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show . [14]

Entertainment Weekly put The Corrections on its end-of-the-decade "best-of" list, saying, "Forget all the Oprah hoo-ha: Franzen's 2001 doorstop of a domestic drama teaches that, yes, you can go home again. But you might not want to." [15]

Style and interpretations

With The Corrections, Franzen moved away from the postmodernism of his earlier novels and towards literary realism. [16] In a conversation with novelist Donald Antrim for BOMB Magazine , Franzen said of this stylistic change, "Simply to write a book that wasn't dressed up in a swashbuckling, Pynchon-sized megaplot was enormously difficult." [6] Critics pointed out many similarities between Franzen's childhood in St. Louis and the novel, [17] but the work is not an autobiography. [18] Franzen said in an interview that "the most important experience of my life ... is the experience of growing up in the Midwest with the particular parents I had. I feel as if they couldn’t fully speak for themselves, and I feel as if their experience—by which I mean their values, their experience of being alive, of being born at the beginning of the century and dying towards the end of it, that whole American experience they had—[is] part of me. One of my enterprises in the book is to memorialize that experience, to give it real life and form." [19] The novel also focuses on topics such as the multi-generational transmission of family dysfunction [20] and the waste inherent in today's consumer economy, [21] and each of the characters "embody the conflicting consciousnesses and the personal and social dramas of our era." [22] Influenced by Franzen's life, the novel in turn influenced it; during its writing, he said in 2002, he moved "away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance – even a celebration – of being a reader and a writer." [23]

In a Newsweek feature on American culture during the George W. Bush administration, Jennie Yabroff said that despite being released less than a year into Bush's term and before the September 11 attacks, The Corrections "anticipates almost eerily the major concerns of the next seven years." [13] According to Yabroff, a study of The Corrections demonstrates that much of the apprehension and disquiet that is seen as characteristic of the Bush era and post-9/11 America actually predated both. In this way, the novel is both characteristic of its time and prophetic of things to come; for Yabroff, even the controversy with Oprah, which saw Franzen branded an "elitist," was symptomatic of the subsequent course of American culture, with its increasingly prominent anti-elitist strain. She argues that The Corrections stands above later novels which focus on similar themes, because unlike its successors it addresses these themes without being "hamstrung by the 9/11 problem" which preoccupied Bush-era novels by writers such as Don DeLillo, Jay McInerney, and Jonathan Safran Foer. [13]

Film adaptation

In August 2001, producer Scott Rudin optioned the film rights to The Corrections for Paramount Pictures. [24] The rights still have not yet been turned into a completed film. [25]

In 2002, the film was said to be in pre-production, with Stephen Daldry attached to direct and dramatist David Hare working on the screenplay. [26] In October 2002, Franzen gave Entertainment Weekly a wish-list for the cast of the film, saying, "If they told me Gene Hackman was going to do Alfred, I would be delighted. If they told me they had cast Cate Blanchett as [Alfred's daughter] Denise, I would be jumping up and down, even though officially I really don't care what they do with the movie." [27]

In January 2005, Variety announced that, with Daldry presumably off the project, Robert Zemeckis was developing Hare's script "with an eye toward directing." [28] In August 2005, Variety confirmed that the director would definitely be helming The Corrections. [29] Around this time, it was rumored that the cast would include Judi Dench as the family matriarch Enid, along with Brad Pitt, Tim Robbins and Naomi Watts as her three children. [30] In January 2007, Variety wrote that Hare was still at work on the film's screenplay. [31]

In September 2011, it was announced that Rudin and the screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach were preparing The Corrections as a "drama series project," to potentially co-star Anthony Hopkins and air on HBO. Baumbach and Franzen collaborated on the screenplay, which Baumbach would direct. In 2011, it was announced that Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest would star in the HBO adaptation. In November 2011, it was announced that Ewan McGregor had joined the cast. [32] In a March 7, 2012, interview, McGregor confirmed that work on the film was "about a week" in and noted that both Dianne Wiest and Maggie Gyllenhaal were among the cast members. [33] But on May 1, 2012, HBO decided not to pick up the pilot for a full series. [34]

Radio adaptation

In January 2015, the BBC broadcast a 15-part radio dramatisation of the work. The series of 15-minute episodes, adapted by Marcy Kahan and directed by Emma Harding, also starred Richard Schiff ( The West Wing ), Maggie Steed ( The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus ), Colin Stinton ( Rush , The Bourne Ultimatum ) and Julian Rhind-Tutt ( Lucy , Rush , Notting Hill ). The series was part of BBC Radio 4's 15 Minute Drama "classic and contemporary original drama and book dramatisations".

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jonathan Franzen</span> American writer

Jonathan Earl Franzen is an American novelist and essayist. His 2001 novel The Corrections, a sprawling, satirical family drama, drew widespread critical acclaim, earned Franzen a National Book Award, was a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist, earned a James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. His novel Freedom (2010) garnered similar praise and led to an appearance on the cover of Time magazine alongside the headline "Great American Novelist". Franzen's latest novel Crossroads was published in 2021, and is the first in a projected trilogy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Gaddis</span> American novelist

William Thomas Gaddis, Jr. was an American novelist. The first and longest of his five novels, The Recognitions, was named one of TIME magazine's 100 best novels from 1923 to 2005 and two others, J R and A Frolic of His Own, won the annual U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. A collection of his essays was published posthumously as The Rush for Second Place (2002). The Letters of William Gaddis was published by Dalkey Archive Press in February 2013.

<i>The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay</i> 2000 novel by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a 2000 novel by American author Michael Chabon that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. The novel follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, Czech artist Joe Kavalier and Brooklyn-born writer Sammy Clay, before, during, and after World War II. In the novel, Kavalier and Clay become major figures in the comics industry from its nascency into its Golden Age. Kavalier & Clay was published to "nearly unanimous praise" and became a New York Times Best Seller, receiving nominations for the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 2006, Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation," and in 2007, The New York Review of Books called the novel Chabon's magnum opus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jane Smiley</span> American novelist

Jane Smiley is an American novelist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres (1991).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Noah Baumbach</span> American filmmaker

Noah Baumbach is an American film director and screenwriter. He is known for making witty and intellectual comedies set in New York City and has often been compared to writer-directors such as Woody Allen and Whit Stillman. His frequent collaborators include Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver, and Wes Anderson.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oprah's Book Club</span> Talk show segment of books chosen by Oprah Winfrey

Oprah's Book Club was a book discussion club segment of the American talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, highlighting books chosen by host Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey started the book club in 1996, selecting a new book, usually a novel, for viewers to read and discuss each month. In total, the club recommended 70 books during its 15 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jane Goldman</span> English screenwriter, author and producer

Jane Loretta Anne Goldman is an English screenwriter, author and producer. With Matthew Vaughn, she co-wrote the screenplays of Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and its sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), as well as X-Men: First Class (2011), Kick-Ass (2010) and Stardust (2007). Goldman also worked on the story of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), the sequel to First Class, in partnership with Vaughn. Both met high critical praise for their partnership works.

<i>How to Be Alone</i> (book)

How to Be Alone is a 2002 book collecting fourteen essays by American writer Jonathan Franzen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Russo</span> American writer and teacher

Richard Russo is an American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and teacher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Frey</span> American writer

James Frey is an American writer and businessman. His first two books, A Million Little Pieces (2003) and My Friend Leonard (2005), were bestsellers marketed as memoirs. Large parts of the stories were later found to be exaggerated or fabricated, sparking a media controversy. His 2008 novel Bright Shiny Morning was also a bestseller.

<i>The Man Who Loved Children</i> Novel by Christina Stead

The Man Who Loved Children is a 1940 novel by Australian writer Christina Stead. It was not until a reissue edition in 1965, with an introduction by poet Randall Jarrell, that it found widespread critical acclaim and popularity. Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. The novel has been championed by novelists Robert Stone, Jonathan Franzen and Angela Carter. Carter believed Stead's other novels Cotters England; A Little Tea, A Little Chat; and For Love Alone to be as good, if not better than The Man Who Loved Children.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Todd Field</span> American actor and filmmaker (born 1964)

William Todd Field is an American actor and filmmaker. He is known for directing three feature films: In the Bedroom (2001), Little Children (2006), and Tár (2022). He has received three Academy Award nominations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Daniel Kehlmann</span> German-language novelist

Daniel Kehlmann is a German-language novelist and playwright of both Austrian and German nationality.

<i>The Discomfort Zone</i> Book by Jonathan Franzen

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History is a 2006 memoir by Jonathan Franzen, who received the National Book Award for Fiction for his novel The Corrections in 2001.

<i>Ghost World</i> (film) 2001 black comedy film by Terry Zwigoff

Ghost World is a 2001 black comedy film directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Steve Buscemi. Based on the 1993–97 comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes, with a screenplay co-written by Clowes and Zwigoff, the story focuses on the lives of Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson), two teenage outsiders in an unnamed American city. They face a rift in their relationship as Enid takes interest in an older man named Seymour (Buscemi), and becomes determined to help his romantic life.

<i>Freedom</i> (Franzen novel) 2010 novel by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom is a 2010 novel by American author Jonathan Franzen. It was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Freedom received general acclaim from book critics, was ranked one of the best books of 2010 by several publications, and called by some critics the "Great American Novel". In 2022, it was announced that Freedom would be adapted for television.

"Why Bother?", originally published as "Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels", is a literary essay by American novelist Jonathan Franzen. It is often referred to as "The Harper's Essay". First published in the April 1996 issue of Harper's magazine, the essay concerns the persistence of reading within the context of technological growth and distraction. Franzen recounts his meditations on the state and possibility of the novel form, often against the backdrop of his personal experience, eventually concluding that the novel still has potential cultural agency in the United States, and often gains it by paradoxical drives of both culture and author.

"Mr. Difficult", subtitled "William Gaddis and the problem of hard-to-read books", is a 2002 essay by Jonathan Franzen that appeared in the 9/30/2002 issue of The New Yorker. It was reprinted in the paperback edition of How to Be Alone without the subtitle.

<i>Purity</i> (novel) English-language novel by Franzen, published in 2015

Purity is a novel by American author Jonathan Franzen. His fifth novel, it was published on 1 September 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

<i>White Noise</i> (2022 film) 2022 film by Noah Baumbach

White Noise is a 2022 absurdist comedy-drama film, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, adapted from the 1985 novel with the same title by Don DeLillo. It is Baumbach's first directed feature not to be based on an original story of his own. The film stars Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, and May Nivola. Set in the 1980s, the story follows the life of an academic and his family whose lives change after an air contamination accident occurs near where they reside.


  1. 1 2 "National Book Awards – 2001". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
    (With acceptance speech by Franzen and essays by Mary Jo Bang, David Ulin, and Lee Taylor Gaffigan from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. The New Classics: Books
  3. All-TIME 100 Books
  4. "A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon". Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  5. Franzen, Jonathan (2002). "Mr. Difficult". The New Yorker.
  6. 1 2 Antrim, Donald. "Jonathan Franzen". BOMB Magazine . Fall 2001. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
  7. "Fiction". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  8. Leonard, John (September 20, 2001). "Nuclear Fission (review of The Corrections)". The New York Review of Books.
  9. "All Time 100 Novels". Time. October 16, 2005. Archived from the original on October 19, 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  10. Birnbaum, Robert. "Bret Easton Ellis", The Morning News, January 19, 2006. Retrieved on October 28, 2008.
  11. "The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far): An Introduction", The Millions, By Editor, September 21, 2009 .
  12. McGee, C. Max (September 25, 2009). "Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers". The Millions .
  13. 1 2 3 Yabroff, Jennie (December 22, 2008). "The Way We Were: Art and Culture In the Bush Era". Newsweek . New York City: Newsweek Media Group.
  14. Kachka, Boris (August 5, 2013). "Corrections". Slate. ISSN   1091-2339 . Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  15. Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), "THE 100 Greatest MOVIES, TV SHOWS, ALBUMS, BOOKS, CHARACTERS, SCENES, EPISODES, SONGS, DRESSES, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND TRENDS THAT ENTERTAINED US OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS". Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74-84
  16. Brooks, Neil Edward; Toth, Josh (2007). The Mourning After: Attending the wake of postmodernism. p. 201. ISBN   978-9042021624 . Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  17. Theo Schell-Lambert. "Village Voice 9/5/06 article". Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  18. "American Popular Culture Magazine article". Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  19. Laugier, Sandra. "Interview in Bomb Magazine issue 77". Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  20. Merkel, Julia (October 2007). Hereditary Misery. p. 5. ISBN   9783638818230 . Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  21. Ginsborg, Paul; Ginsborg, Professor Paul (2005). ginsbor, The Politics of Everyday Life, p. 63. ISBN   9780300107487 . Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  22. "Bookpage interview". Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  23. Franzen, Jonathan (May 15, 2007). Franzen, How to be Alone, p. 3-6. ISBN   9780374707644 . Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  24. Bing, Jonathan; Fleming, Michael (August 1, 2001). "'Corrections' connections for Rudin". Variety.
  25. The Corrections (2011) IMDB
  26. Susman, Gary. "Cast Away", Entertainment Weekly , January 27, 2005. Retrieved on January 25, 2007.
  27. Valby, Karen. "Correction Dept." Entertainment Weekly, October 25, 2002. Retrieved January 25, 2007.
  28. Fleming, Michael (January 27, 2005). "Zemeckis checks new draft of 'Corrections'". Variety. Retrieved January 25, 2007.
  29. Fleming, Michael. "Rudin books tyro novel", Variety, August 29, 2005. Retrieved on January 25, 2007.
  30. Watts & Pitt Undergo "Corrections" (February 4, 2005) – Dark Horizons
  31. Fleming, Michael. "Miramax, Rudin option rights to novel: Pair pact for Pessl novel 'Calamity'", Variety, January 10, 2007. Retrieved on November 1, 2007.
  32. Andreeva, Nellie. "Noah Baumbach’s & Scott Rudin’s ‘The Corrections’ Adaptation Nears Pilot Pickup At HBO, Anthony Hopkins Circling", Deadline Hollywood , September 2, 2011. Retrieved on September 5, 2011.
  33. Tasha Robinson "Interview: Ewan McGregor"
  34. HBO Passes on the Pilot for The Corrections Adaptation
Preceded by National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by