Corrections in “The Corrections.”

thecorrectionsIn my recent re-read of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, I made it a point to note all of the times “corrections” (or a close derivation) appeared in the text.

While, obviously, the book’s title has many implications beyond the reoccurrence of “corrections”—I’m being slightly reductive, since the entire book is imbued with how we try to fix ourselves and our lives, not always successfully—I thought it possibly helpful to a broader understanding of the book to keep track of these specific instances. Thus, I included them below.{{1}}

Obviously, “spoilers” etc. etc. ahead.

[[1]]All citations are to the first paperback edition of The Corrections, since that’s the edition I read. I’m not familiar with the latest paperbacks of the book, but the edition I have stayed in circulation for a long time, and (I think) was paginated the same as the hardcover.[[1]]

“Corrections” in the novel

Pages 30, 32: Chip tells Denise that he needs to make “a major, quick set of corrections” to his screenplay—he decides he wants to cut out a chunk of the beginning—but the correction he makes ends up being the wrong one. Later, after the scary incident along the road outside Vilnius, he realizes his script should be a farce instead of a drama.

Pages 186-7: The wonder drug “Corecktall” makes its first appearance. While “Corecktall” is apparently also the name of a laxative (not unintentional work by Franzen, here), the most prominent pharmaceutical in the book is supposed to help declining cognition. Gary presses to get in early on the stock, after he and Denise attend a sales event; they also try to get Alfred in on early trials. Neither works out: Alfred is too far gone to try Corecktall, and though Gary does get in on the stock—not as deep as he had hoped—the market makes a (you guessed it) “correction,” and the stock tanks.

Page 250: This is during the long flashback scene to the days when Gary, Chip and Denise were children. After Alfred returns from a long business trip:

It was in their [the kids’] nature to throw their arms around him, but this nature had been corrected out of them.

Page 278: After Alfred and Enid have sex, while Enid is already pregnant:

Alfred lay catching his breath and repenting his defiling of the baby. A last child was a last opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes and make corrections, and he resolved to seize this opportunity. From the day she was born he would treat her more gently than he’d treated Gary or Chipper. Relax the law for her, indulge her outright, even, and never once force her to sit at the table after everyone was gone.

This is a big moment in Alfred’s life. His indulgence of Denise makes up one of the bigger—and most poignant—plot twists in the novel. Also on the same page, Alfred continues to think:

What made correction possible also doomed it.

Page 332: Aboard the appropriately-named cruise ship Gunner Myrdal, Jim Crolius, “noted investment counselor,” gives a tip on personal financial skills called “Surviving the Corrections.”

Page 359: During the flashback describing Denise’s time working as a summer file clerk at the railroad, the business is detailed:

Each wiring diagram was labeled with the name of the line and the milepost number. The Signal Engineer hatched plans for corrections, and the draftsmen sent paper copies of the diagrams into the field, highlighting additions in yellow pencil and subtractions in red.

Page 422: Denise has a weird reverie of  “sticking her tongue in her mother’s mouth, and running “her hands down Enid’s hips and thighs, nearly caved in and promised to come at Christmas for as long as Enid wanted” and only after that “did the extent of the correction she was undergoing reveal itself.” This is in the middle of Denise’s back-and-forth affairs with Robin and Brian.

The Final Chapter: The novel’s final chapter is called “The Corrections.” It begins:

The correction, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle letdown, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets, a contraction too gradual to generate headlines and too predictable to seriously hurt anybody but fools and the working poor.

This is part of the “correction” that Crolius was advising against and to which Gary fell victim.

The Final Sentences: Okay—these I’m cheating slightly here. There’s no “correction” actually in this section, but it’s obviously after the same idea. I know I could have picked a number of other parts of the book to offer the same hints, but it seems pertinent to include these lines, which are some of favorite final sentences in any novel I’ve read.

And yet when he was dead, when she’d pressed her lips to his forehead and walked out with Denise and Gary into the warm spring night, [Enid] felt that nothing could kill her hope now, nothing. She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life.

If I missed any, please let me know.