Monday, 30 May 2011

Reviews Of Books I've Never Read

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen at a recent book signing at The Mall Of America
In a previous review about books I've never read, I stated that even the slighter volumes of literature, or at least those that weigh in at less than two or three hundred pages, were just as satisfactory for killing silverfish. Well, I stand corrected and it took this book, The Corrections, to correct me about this misconception. Well, truthfully it took a little more than that. After a couple of nights of intense silverfish whacking using less weighty books that demanded three, four and even five strikes to kill the crafty creatures, my arm hurt worse than if it too had been smacked over and over again with a new edition of say, War and Peace (another book I haven't read and so will be reviewing soon...stay tuned), complete with a new preface, introduction and an added forty pages of footnotes. So, arm in a homemade sling cobbled together from an old dishcloth, some dried sausage skins and a Bad Boy big mouth bass fishing lure, I scanned my bookshelves for something more worthy for silverfish killing and enlightening for the mind too and came upon this little number. Well, let me say I haven't been disappointed. First off, I love novels that take place in correctional institutions and this far-reaching opus, one might even say groping at times, has proved a worthy adversary for both my intellect and the vermin that hide in my bathroom late at night. Five friends whose lives intersect at the Ballyworth Correctional Facility in Montana, Texas, speaks big not only in locality but in the spanning generations of families and friends this book depicts. Dudley Forsythe, lady's man, Fitz Fitzsimmons, the brain who all the friends come to for help, Alex Parflebintz, a fish out of water, Glick Mung, concealing a forbidden Chinese love for Enid Milbosmarm, a Texas rancher's wife, and Billy Bob Bobby Bob, a good old boy who would give his life, his wife or his four-wheel drive to save his friends' hides. As these five lives and their families intersect, the bright side of the American Dream and its sleep apnea-suffering underbelly are revealed in an emotional interplay that I haven't encountered since I didn't read Franzen's previous book, The Mispronounciations. What few people realize about this fine novel and what Mr. Franzen has stated in interviews, is that the genesis of the story lies in actual lives of people Mr. Franzen's Uncle Wally knew when he was a butcher in Porgondo, Alabama. This is the picture he had hanging in his butcher shop, a picture Mr. Franzen hung on his wall during the writing of the novel and turned to again and again for inspiration. Glick Mung is the one in sunglasses.
The toll all five characters pay from working in the Ballyworth Correctional Facility and how it affects their families, along with the shooting of Glick Mung in a Wal-Mart for correcting someone in the checkout line, that person turning out to be none other than Enid Milbosmarm's husband, Minton Milbosmarm, drives the plot of this narrative like an old pickup truck down a gravel road filled with hopping toads, many being squished before they can even croak for help.
With Glick Mung now horribly disfigured from the shooting and walking with a limp too as the bullet entered his eye socket and then ricocheted down his body into his leg, Billy Bob Bobby Bob goes into action to avenge his friend's shooting, gunning Minton Milbosmarm down in cold blood (well, actually warm blood because it was fresh from his body and it was the height of summer in Texas when this occurs) in front of Lorpongo's Plumbing Supplies where Milbosmarm had gone to buy some nylon straps to hold his toilet tank in place during a cattle drive because the thundering hooves were shaking all his fixtures and appliances.
A re-enactment of Minton Milbosmarm before the shooting testing the stability of his toilet tank during the cattle drive.
Billy Bob Bobby Bob is put into the same correctional facility he once worked at, now as a prisoner and in the meantime lady's man, Dudley Forsythe, begins sleeping with Enid Milbosmarm, who is lonely since her husband died, but Glick Mung finds out and kills them both in a jealous rage but because of his limp the authorities catch him pretty quickly. He too joins Billy Bob Bobby Bob in the correctional facility and guess what, plenty of those prisoners they used to watch over and occasionally mistreat and taunt with liquor and pornography, are overjoyed to see these former correctional officers in the same boat as them and, well, let me just say, Mr. Franzen pulls no punches in his graphic descriptions of prison rape and its attending anal maladies as a result of these techniques. Definitely not for the squeamish unless you like that sort of thing, in which case some of the passages simply sing like a lark in June. Not long after their incarceration, Fitz Fitzsimmons, the brain, goes to work on a plan to break his friends out of jail. He enlists his children, Troy, Boffo and Ladybug, to help carry out his plot, and, well, all I'm wont to say is this book really gets rolling like a roller coaster or speeding train or a falafel vendor during lunch hour in the business district. Alex Parflebintz, the fish out of water, and who has been quiet throughout most of the book, and by quiet I mean you can't even hear him walking or breathing because he has gills and fins, a result of constant exposure to some pesticides he was using to grow bigger cauliflowers, finally returns to the sea, though sadly he must leave behind his wife, Fletchen, and his goldfish, Molly. All I can say is whew, I was sweating by the time I didn't finish this book, because, well, it's a lot of pages and I must've killed sixty or seventy silverfish with it. Now there has been a lot of controversy over Mr. Franzen and famous talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, over this book and the subsequent fallout over Ms. Winfrey's comments and suggestions. I got the inside scoop on the whole thing from Moumahad Reynolds, who sold shwarmas to her cue card holder, Eddie Pluffnutter.
Eddie Pluffnutter
It seems that after Mr. Franzen's previous book, The Mispronounciations and the one before that, The Palpitations, both did so poorly at the bookstores, Ms. Winfrey felt that if he were to put her picture on the front of his book, he would be laughing all the way to the bestseller bank, so to speak. Mr. Franzen took offense and not only did he walk off her show, he even took back his promise of the deal he could get her on a miniature pony that she'd had her eye on for a while. Now I, for one, don't agree with Mr. Franzen on this issue. Ms. Winfrey is a vibrant and striking looking human being whose bouffant hairdo would catch the eye of any bookstore browser sleepy from looking at so many boring book covers. Such a hairdo would cause me to buy any book in an instant, regardless of the subject matter. You know the old adage, you can't judge a book by its cover? Well, you can certainly judge it by its hairdo and in fact, Ms. Winfrey even offered to supply some of her own locks and strands to be glued to each book to make the whole affair a more tactile experience as you could stroke the hair while you read the book and thus increase your reading pleasure.
Oprah demonstrating how long one of her hair strands would be if you unraveled it.
In the end, where does this leave The Corrections? Well, it's still a very fine novel but really, the addition of Oprah's hair could've put this thing over the top because it's hard to put a book with hair in the bargain bin. And it's a known fact that fondling, stroking or twiddling hair while reading helps one to retain twice as much information. Doubt this? Just ask my barber, Yargo Varnish, The Butcher of Dorchester. He has oodles of the stuff that he sweeps up from the floor and puts in bags for later use and, well, he's a pretty smart guy most of the time.

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