My assault on the pop music of literature continues, albeit akin to buying The Strokes album now. Franzen’s The Corrections then; a doorstep sized beach novel made for slightly shingly, uncomfortable beaches. We are in “great American novel” territory here, which means that nothing much happens but it is awfully poignant.

That is a bit unfair. The Corrections is, for all of its meanderings, a good page turning read. Firstly it employs a very risky strategy of not having many natural breaks in the narrative (does not suck you in but makes it hard to know where to put it down). In its six hundred page trawl through a dysfunctionally average American family it covers as many bases as possible to allow its reader to identify with its characters. I would imagine the book has a identification strike rate of well over 90% of its readership (it got me). Once sucked in it offers both a mirror to our own gently dysfunctional lives and toys with a solution. To get to this point the book is a bit nasty about everyone, our hyper-critical parents, our feckless siblings. But that’s okay too: because the book also suggests that there is a general feeling in society that not only is everyone else inferior to us, but we too are inferior to the facade we present. Franzen gets to this point after spinning five soapy lives of varying humour, believability and social relevance. Like most books that capture the zeitgeist, it would be difficult to map this out as a surefire formula, but in retrospect its formula seems simple.

On another matter though, a classic example of being brought out of the book with a bump. Page 302 of the UK paperback edition, where we are firmly in the realm of the parents (the fathers) reminiscences. These passages have areas of largely scatological hallucination; an argument with a turd; Parkinsonian frailties. Nevertheless it is rarely that a single description, a description of colour, stays with me through a book. It is the use of the phrase “dogshit yellow” to describe some overboiled rutabaga* which threw me right out of the book. And even though I know that the evocation of dogshit was more to prove that the food was unpalatable than its colour, it still seemed glaringly out of place. (This whole sequence on the other hand is a perfect example of how Franzen is trying to get his audience to identify with these characters, what is more cliched than family battles over food a child will not eat.)

*And I don’t even know what rutabaga is. Though like dog detective, I can work it out from the context.