Jonathan Franzen, “The Discomfort Zone”

It’s a little easy to fall in love with Franzen in the first few chapters of his memoir. He grows up in the American heartland, doing nerdy pranks at his high school, going to a loosely Christian fellowship group and being too sensitive to get girls. It’s just as easy to take a few steps back at the end, when the boy who loves astronomy is suddenly an avid birdwatcher in his forties.
His elliptical storytelling style is a little jarring at first — it’s a bit like articles in The New Yorker (in which some of these stories appeared in some form) that go from being very personal to sweepingly broad in a paragraph. (And you’re left wondering if you’re just not smart enough to be able to follow the connections being made.) Franzen’s word choice was so perfect at times that it had me laughing out loud.

THE LOWDOWN
Published: 2006, 208 pp.
Obtained via: Library
Date started: 11.20.06
Date finished: 11.26.06
What I liked: The detail and word choice. I felt at times like I was living his childhood. Then I realized that the deja vu I was feeling was because I’d read some of this in The New Yorker before.
What I didn’t like: The brutal honesty about growing old. I’m just a wuss.
What I learned: How not to get a tire over the top of a flagpole, the general gist of Kafka’s “The Trial,” Texas is good for birdwatching.
Unresolved question: Is Franzen this self-absorbed in person?

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