Last weekend I went to the Connecticut Forum Book Club and watched John Irving, Azar Nafisi, and Jonathan Franzen talk about everything from the role of authors in our society to their favorite words. It was a fascinating evening that made me long for my college-days, when I spent so many hours of the day talking about books.
So my friend and I decided we were going to finally commit to tackling The Corrections, Franzen’s breakthrough novel. This is something I haven’t been able to do for years. I loathe just about every character in the book and just kind of wish they’d all get wiped out by chapter five courtesy of a plague. Oddly, I feel much the same way about this book as I do Eat, Pray, Love. The comparison seems a bit of stretch, I know. It’s not about the writing, it’s about the feelings the characters stir up in me: mainly, annoyance.
I think what bugs me about these characters — and characters in a lot of neurotic books — is that their unhappiness stems from their own inability to just be who they want to be. It stems from a lack of courage, of integrity… from a willingness to just follow the herd. I get that Franzen is, of course, calling his characters out for being these sad, pathetic people, but I’m just bored with books about people whose misery comes from just being lame. I love John Irving novels because the characters as paranoid, neurotic, and even unhappy as some may be have good reason for being that way. They’re orphans, or dwarves with paralyzed vocal chords, or the children of crazy nurses and have all the reason in the world to be messed up, but instead they’re interesting, if damaged, people. And it’s why I like Chris Moore books: they’re so far removed from real life, you can’t even bother disliking any of the uproarious characters.
That being said, I’m putting my mind to finishing The Corrections and now that I’ve got some book club-type questions to accompany it, I think I just might conquer this bad boy. So far it is funny, but in a mean-spirited way that makes me cringe a little. We’ll see how this goes.