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Craig's Book Club
Book Recommendations

Spotlight on: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Alternate Recommendation: The Water-Method Man by John Irving

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The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

[Amazon.co.uk] [Amazon.ca]
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

Surely you've heard the sensational backstory. The Corrections was chosen for Oprah's Book Club. Author Jonathan Franzen decided he didn't want to be chosen, despite the cachet it brings, because he thought it would be the wrong sort of publicity for his literary, New Yorker-type of novel. There was then a big brouhaha where Oprah did not have her usual spotlight program where the author is invited to be interviewed. She, however, did not remove the book from her recommendation list.

Now, I'm a literary snob and I know it. I'm not someone who reads Oprah's picks, specifically because they are Oprah books. I have read some of her choices, but because the ideas intrigued me. However, recently, I've chosen to not read any of the later picks. This became a difficulty for me as I was intrigued by the premise of The Corrections, but you couldn't find a copy anywhere in a store that didn't have that hideous gold "O" on the cover. Therefore, I would not read the book, even though I consider myself (in my pretensions) to be a "literary" reader.

But, then, recently, about a year after the event, I found a Recorded Books copy of Franzen's book in the library. A perfect compromise, I thought. I can experience the book without the repercussions that being seen with "an Oprah book" would bring to my stellar reputation.

I told you I was a snob.

The Corrections is about the Lambert family: Alfred, the father; Enid, the mother; and Chip, Gary, and Denise, the children; and their lives and relationships with each other and fringe people. Alfred is stubbornly refusing to believe his slow descent into senility. Enid wants her quickly spreading family to have one last Christmas together. Chip is struggling with losing his teaching job due to a wild drugged-out weekend with a student. Gary is attempting to receive the money his father refused from an invention from long ago that a large conglomerate is using in a breakthrough pharmaceutical that, ironically, could treat Alfred's dementia. And Denise is having difficulty separating her work and sex lives.

Each family member's story interlaces with others and those of people involved in their lives. I found the family's stories much more interesting that those of unrelated folks, but the book as a whole is phenomenal. Franzen comes from the modern flock of literary authors like David Foster Wallace who sprinkle pop-culture references and new uses of words within a basic story framework, making the reading of a novel once again a "novel" experience.

Despite Franzen's (and my) biases against certain types of publicity, he has written a book that deserves all the praise and fame that it can get, from whatever the source. This is the new generation in action. Take note.

The Water-Method Man by John Irving Alternate Recommendation: John Irving, The Water-Method Man

My first John Irving was The World According to Garp and I've gone backwards from that point, having not read any of his later works. After Garp, I read The 158-Pound Marriage and then Setting Free the Bears, both wonderful in their own ways, especially as a portrait of a developing novelist.

But it is with The Water Method Man the Irving really begins to blossom. All the quirky bits in the other novels really seem to flow together seamlessly here, in preparation for the magnum opus that would be Garp.

The Water-Method Man is the story of Fred "Bogus" Trumper and his two main relationships with women: his marriage to Biggie and his subsequent relationship with Tulpen. (I love Irving's way with names--these are definitely not going to be confused with anyone you know.)

Bogus failed at marriage and Irving implies that he is going down a similar path with Tulpen. His friend Ralph Packer is even documenting this fall on a film called F**king Up--no subtlety there. The most interesting parts of the novel are actually those that take you out of the story for a moment. The POV changes throughout without warning: one moment Bogus is telling his story and with a paragraph change, it is being narrated about him. Along the way, Irving uses the epistolary format to tell part of the tale, and one chapter is, in its entirety, a transcript for F**king Up.

The title refers to a penile problem Bogus has and how his doctor tries to remedy it. This is a minor subplot, but it feeds the character of Bogus in subtle ways. Irving's early novels are always funny, lightly so, not laugh-out-loud, and The Water-Method Man is no exception. It's not a quick read, but is well worth the time.

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Books by
This Month's

The Corrections
How to Be Alone: Essays
The Twenty-Seventh City
Strong Motion
The Water-Method Man
The 158-Pound Marriage
Setting Free the Bears
The World According to Garp
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Cider House Rules
The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir
Trying to Save Piggy Sneed