Author, Book review, Fiction, Fourth Estate, Jonathan Franzen, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, USA

‘Strong Motion’ by Jonathan Franzen


Fiction – paperback; Fourth Estate; 508 pages; 1992.

Jonathan Franzen never does things by halves. Strong Motion is a gigantic tome wrestling with gigantic themes. The amazing thing is that he pulls it off brilliantly.

Published a decade before his critically acclaimed The Corrections, Strong Motion is no less awe-inspiring for its depth, imagination and comedic force. Franzen takes a harsh look at family life and the petty jealousies which plague relationships between siblings and parents; he includes a classic romance between a smitten “lost” boy and an older woman; he throws in a corporate-cum-environmental story; he sprinkles in the drama of an earthquake or two; and then weaves in a whole bunch of stuff about the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Oh, and did I mention there’s some religion and New Age mumbo-jumbo in there as well.

How he marries all these incredibly diverse threads together into a gripping and enjoyable read is a credit to the man’s amazing narrative ability. It’s nowhere near as good as The Corrections, but it’s still a wonderful book nonetheless. And, in some ways, it’s like reading the first seed which later grew into the huge Oak Tree of Franzen’s best-selling success.

1001 books, 1001 Books to read before you die, Author, Book review, Fiction, Fourth Estate, Jonathan Franzen, literary fiction, Publisher, Reading Projects, Setting, USA

‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen


Fiction – paperback; Fourth Estate; 653 pages; 2002.

Without a doubt, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen is my Book of the Year for 2002.

It’s a giant, rollicking, complicated, multi-layered novel about an all-American family facing up to the reality of the past as two ageing parents, Enid and Alfred, plan one last Christmas dinner for their three adult children.

On initial reading, it’s a bit difficult to know exactly where it is that The Corrections is going — there are stories within stories and, at times, characters appear to go off on bizarre tangents. But, upon closer inspection, this rambling chaos is, in fact, cleverly planned out and well-plotted as the many and varied threads of the story become woven into one amazing and beautifully written tome.

The characters are complicated and believable, with their own particular flaws and insecurities; the settings are rich, closely observed and capture so very well the chaotic disorder and visual bombardment of today’s world; the individual storylines which make up each character’s progression through childhood and beyond are touching and wholly realistic.

There are passages which are laugh-out-loud funny and others where you can feel yourself cringing with embarrassment. It’s the kind of book that you might imagine Anne Tyler and Tom Wolfe collaborating on, deftly weaving as it does a fantastic blend of journalistic realism with touching pathos.

Despite its 653 pages, I ploughed through this novel at a frenetic pace and wished it would last forever.

Funnily enough, the Christmas dinner, which is the lynchpin of The Corrections, is nowhere near as fascinating as the journey upon which each character embarks to get there.

Franzen takes each character and gives them wonderful back stories upon which to base their current situation; he makes them lively and entertaining, he reveals the complicated relationships they share with each other, and he shows their desires and dreams, their successes and failures. He does this with intelligence, wit and psychological insight.

This book wholeheartedly deserves all the praise and awards that it has reaped. I look forward to reading more from this amazing writer.

‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen, first published in 2001, is listed in Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, where it boldly describes the novel as “important” because of its ambition and the fact that it sets out to be important, “to declare unapologetically and often ferociously that the novel itself, literature in all its tenuous glory, is important”.