Worst was the image of the little girl curled up inside her, a girl not much larger than a large bug but already a witness to such harm. Witness to a tautly engorged little brain that dipped in and out beyond the cervix and then, with a quick double spasm that could hardly be considered adequate warning, spat thick alkaline webs of spunk into her private room. Not even born, and already drenched in sticky knowledge.
Alfred lay catching his breath and repenting his defiling of the baby. A last child was an opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes and make corrections, and he resolved to seize this opportunity…But he’d squirted such filth on her when she was helpless. She’d witnessed such scenes of marriage, and so of course, when she was older, she betrayed him. (281)
I first read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections about eight or nine years ago, back when it first came out. By the time I finished it, I was in love with the work; for the past eight or nine years, I’ve considered it one of my favorite books of all time. Upon re-reading it, I found that so much of my memory of the events in the book has faded. I vaguely remembered some of the plot, but the one passage of the book I clearly remembered (and have thought of occasionally throughout the years), is the above passage.
It’s so strange to think of angsty, 20-year-old me falling in love with The Corrections. The book, which follows the various travails of the Lambert family, is not a terribly easy read. I mostly remember delighting over the fact that Franzen spurned Oprah’s Book Club. I also remember relating so much to the characters’ experiences in some weird way, even though most of the situations the characters found themselves in are things I can’t fathom ever doing.
And now here I am, a twenty-something (still somewhat angsty) grown woman with much more sophisticated literature under my belt (definitely picked up on the Infinite Jest influences). I also have much more life experience under my belt, and I find myself relating to some of the characters themselves. I really don’t know what this says about me, as all of the characters are obnoxious, horrible, abusive people with little to no redeeming qualities, but I think that’s what I love about Franzen’s book. He takes various aspects of humanity, turns them up several notches, and presents them in their most extreme forms as train wreck you can’t tear your eyes away from. Yet underneath the humor, the wacky side plots, and the drama still lie those truths about human nature.