What I think makes this book amazing is that is only about a rather ordinary family, a character portrait of a father at the end of his life, his wife and his three adult children. Yet it remains absolutely engrossing from beginning to end. Would we find our own families as fascinating if we were allowed into every nook and cranny of their lives, into their most secret thoughts? Franzen has flayed open each member of the Lambert family and shown us everything with no flinching, from insanity and death and wasted lives to failures of marriages, careers and love affairs—all the messy stuff that gets to the heart of what it means to be human. As Franzen sums it up: “The human species was given dominion over the earth and took the opportunity to exterminate other species and warm the atmosphere and generally ruin things in its own image, but it paid the price for the privileges: that the finite and specific animal body of this species contained a brain capable of conceiving the infinite and wishing to be infinite itself.”
Despite all that, I wouldn’t say that The Corrections is a downer. It mirrors life in that way, too: sometimes melancholy or depressing, some points of utter despair and other spikes of hope, but mostly just moving on.