The Corrections explores the lives of the Lamberts, a traditional and somewhat repressed Midwestern family whose children have fled to the East Coast to start new lives free from the influence of their parents. Chronologically, the novel shifts back and forth throughout the late twentieth century, depicting in detail the personal growth and mistakes of each family member.
Alfred Lambert is a railroad engineer and the stern patriarch of the Lambert family, based in the fictional Midwestern suburb of St. Jude. After his children grow up and move to the East Coast, Alfred retires, but soon begins to suffer from Parkinson's disease, causing his ordered, strict personality to fracture. Alfred's loyal wife Enid has long suffered from his authoritarian behavior, and her life is made more difficult by Alfred's worsening dementia. She is also concerned by their three children's questionable life choices, as well as their abandonment of mid-western Protestant values.
Gary, the eldest Lambert son, is a successful but alcoholic banker in Philadelphia. His family suspects he is depressed, although he tries to deny (mostly to himself) the existence of any mental illness. Chip, the middle child, is a Marxist academic whose disastrous affair with a student loses him a tenure-track job and lands him in the employment of a Lithuanian crime boss defrauding American investors. Denise, the youngest of the family, is a successful chef in Philadelphia but loses her job after interlocking romances with both her boss and his wife.
As the economic boom of the late nineties goes into full swing, the family's problems become impossible to ignore. The separate plot-lines converge on Christmas morning back in St. Jude, when Enid and her children are forced to confront Alfred's accelerating physical and mental decline.