Excerpts from "The Corrections"

Jonathan Franzen has a mellifluous way of describing Alfred's struggle with dementia, as he searches to grasp anything to ground himself in reality. 

"He turned to the doorway where she’d appeared. He began a sentence: “I am—“ but then he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he’d entered, he would realize that the crumbs he’d dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn’t quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seems as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren’t uniform, weren’t an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he’d encountered the word “crepuscular” in McKay’s Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so that for his entire adult lie he’d seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of a kind of sinister decay; and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn’t just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he’d sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and the next, or rather he became trapped in the space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see if the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he’d entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods—“packing my suitcase,” he heard himself say. This sounded right. Verb, possessive, noun. Here was a suitcase in front of him, an important confirmation. He’d betrayed nothing.” (Franzen 11-12)

 

“But Denise left the kitchen and took the plate to Alfred, for whom the problem of existence was this: that, in the manner of a wheat seedling thrusting itself up out of the earth, the world moved forward in time by adding cell after cell to it’s leading edge, piling moment on moment, and that to grasp the world even in its freshest, youngest moment provided no guarantee that you’d be able to grasp it again a moment later. By the time he’d established that his daughter, Denise, was handing him a plate of snacks in his son Chip’s living room, the next moment in time was already budding itself into a pristinely ungrasped existence in which he couldn’t absolutely rule out the possibility, for example, that his wife, Enid, was handing him a plate of feces in the parlor of a brothel; and no sooner had he reconfirmed Denise and the snacks and Chip’s living room than the leading edge of time added yet another layer of new cells, so that he again faced a new and ungrasped world; which was why rather than exhaust himself playing catch-up, he preferred more and more to spend his days down among the unchanging historical roots of things.” (Franzen 66)

I also encountered a wonderful assortment of words I'd never heard before: gerontocratic, remunerated, effulgent, jismic, diurnality, quasi-bicamerality, senesce, anathema. Some of which I'm pretty sure were made up.

This is also a pretty amusing list of quotes from the book, most of which are sexual in nature and especially shocking out of context. 

For example: "The jismic grunting butt-oink. The jiggling frantic nut-swing." (Franzen 58) 

Source: Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. Picador, 2001.