Recap: Alfred and Enid are your typical Midwestern couple; they did their best to raise a family and provide, and now that they’re in retirement, they’re combating Alfred’s Parkinson’s and doing what they can to best stay in touch with their three grown children, living far away in New York City and Philadelphia.
The plot goes back and forth between the 1960’s and present-day so we get perspectives from each of the kids, Gary, Chip and Denise, both as children and adults. We learn about Gary’s success in his career and in building a family, about Chip’s rise and disastrous fall and Denise’s dabbling in sexual experimentation starting at a young age and ultimately affecting her career as a chef. We also see how Alfred’s business decisions over the years have upset first, his wife and now, his children.
Much of the story revolves around Enid trying to convince Alfred to take advantage of a financial opportunity from the railroad company from which he retired. It’s an opportunity that could earn them a large sum of money, and when Gary catches wind of the situation, he also tries to steer his father toward earning the extra cash. But Alfred can’t be bothered. In his old age and with his Parkinson’s, he feels as though he has enough to deal with. All this is just part of what drives the family into a financial and stress-induced panic.
Analysis: So much of this story is about simply the inner-workings of families and how even small decisions and actions can have big impacts on the people to whom we are closest. While the title, The Corrections, is most directly related to the economic and tech boom of the 1990’s, it’s clear the title also refers to the ways in which each character is trying to correct each other and themselves, sometimes with drugs, sex, love or money. But ultimately, they (and we, the readers) learn family connections run more deeply and more complicated than any other, and as much as we want to “correct” each other, sometimes we just can’t.
The novel gets a lot of praise for its statement about an anxiety-driven America; some have even called it prescient in its take on Americans in a post-9/11 world because the book was published and released several days before 9/11 happened. Reading the history of the book’s timing is fascinating, though I doubt I would have picked up on that had I not read about it beforehand.
I was individually intrigued by each of the characters and loved their stories, but at points I kept waiting for something — anything — to happen. Despite not feeling entirely hooked, I ultimately wept like a baby at the end anyway, when I learned how each of the characters ended up. Alfred’s battle with dementia and Parkinson’s resonated with me personally, and that probably has a lot to do with my emotional reaction. But I realized something else when I started crying then: I truly cared about the characters after all. A book like that has all the makings of a great one.
MVP: Denise. She was extremely complex without being really annoying about it. She also makes some of the biggest sacrifices for the family, even though it’s not what we’d expect.