Welcome to the EppsNet Book Club! Here’s what we’ve been reading lately . . .
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead is the journal of an old man — a pastor in a small town in Iowa — writing to his young son, whom he intends to read it after his death. He doesn’t know how to get to the point, he complains about his health despite an absence of physical symptoms, he sees everything as a blessing . . .
He has no strong convictions — I think this but other people think that and they may have a point. The one strong conviction that he does have, he recants by the end of the book.
It’s not a bad book but since the author, Marilynne Robinson, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for it, I feel like I have to say that it’s not a very good book either. Imagine being cornered at a family reunion by one of your least interesting older relatives and you’ll have a good sense of what reading Gilead is like.
Straight Man by Richard Russo
Straight Man is an academic satire set in a small state college in Pennsylvania. William Henry Devereaux Jr. is the chairman of the English department. His colleagues, who can’t stand one another, maneuver to hold on to their jobs in the face of rumored upcoming budget cuts.
Straight Man is a fun book to read, if not quite up to the gold standard for academic satire, which is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Russo offers a nod to Amis by giving Devereaux the nickname Lucky Hank.
Russo has also won a Pulitzer Prize, not for Straight Man but for a novel he wrote a few years later called Empire Falls.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Corrections is a terrific piece of work. Enid Lambert, mother of three grown children and wife to a man losing his faculties to Parkinson’s disease, has her heart set on bringing the whole family together for one final Christmas. Franzen uses the motif of “corrections” in multiple ways, including the way that children shape their own lives as “corrections” of the lives of their parents.
Unlike the two previous authors — Robinson and Russo — Jonathan Franzen has not won a Pulitzer Prize. The Corrections won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2001, and was a finalist for the fiction Pulitzer in 2002, but lost out to Russo’s Empire Falls.
If you just read The Corrections and Straight Man, you’d have to say that Franzen is a much better writer than Russo, but it may be that Russo’s ambitions were more modest with Straight Man than with Empire Falls. If I were a real book reviewer, I would have read Empire Falls and could tell you for certain, but I’m not and I haven’t.
The Corrections is a good companion piece to Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin on the themes of aging and what happens in families when the kids become grown-ups and the parents get old.
One section of the book — the Denise section — is a notch below the rest, but everything else is so good that I can’t give anything less than the highest acclaim.