The characters at the center of THE CORRECTIONS are all unhappy. Enid Lambert, who has spent her life as a decidedly provincial yet socially ambitious Midwestern housewife, is spending her twilight years secretly popping "shame suppressor" pills to ease the emotional burden of caring for her ailing and stubborn husband. Alfred, always a sexually repressed and emotionally absent, if admirably principled, husband and father, is suffering from Parkinson's disease, and increasingly finding the simple act of speech to be "an adventure in the woods." The couple's three grown children have all fled for the East in willful attempts to escape the suburban world inhabited by their parents -- only to find themselves struggling, and usually failing, to form honest relationships and pay their bills. As Chip takes a job with a Lithuanian con artist in attempt to recover, emotionally and financially, from an affair with a student that has cost him both his job and his girlfriend, Gary wages a psychological war with his wife, and Denise undertakes separate affairs with both members of a married couple. Meanwhile, Enid deploys every guilt-tripping tactic in the book in an attempt to bring the family together for one last Christmas.
Yet if the Lamberts all suffer from uniquely American neuroses, the portrait of America at the eve of the 21st century offered by Jonathan Franzen
is not, ultimately, a cynical one. Though he self-consciously sets his characters against a cultural landscape defined by its material and escapist preoccupations -- and quietly dominated by vaguely sinister corporate influences -- Franzen is also clearly and warmly sympathetic to their plights. For all its clever satirical turns, it is THE CORRECTIONS' portrayal of achingly conflicted characters that will make it an American classic. Previous