In this collection of six long essays, Franzen, the author of The Corrections (the most-written-about novel of 2001 and the winner of that year's National Book Award for fiction) and two other novels and an essay collection, focuses on himself: growing up in Webster Groves, MO (a suburb of St. Louis); family matters; love and loss; and the forces that made him. Here, the personal is also the political; nowhere is this made clearer than in the last essay, where Franzen paces out some wandering, but wonderful, pathways between his environmental consciousness, his love relationships, and the real plight of wild birds. Franzen is extremely funny, winning, and not incidentally an astute social commentator. As in his previous work, the style here is energetic and engaged; many ideas are woven together, not often quickly or easily; this is not for lazy readers. A possible choice for nonfiction book clubs; strongly recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/06.]-Terren Ilana Wein, Univ. of Chicago Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Novelist Franzen (The Corrections, 2001, etc.) displays his mastery of nonfiction in this compact, affecting memoir, which begins with the aftermath of his mother's death and ends with a quiet epiphany about love. Today's many autobiographers could learn a lot from Franzen about focus and about the immense significance of the littlest things. He sees the relevance of almost everything-though it sometimes takes him decades. Rather than a traditional story beginning with birth and ending with the present, Franzen offers six segments that together form a rough chronology. Each could stand alone but gains great power from its juxtaposition with the others. When the author appears to be drifting away from the narrative, he is instead inviting us along on a detour that often turns out to be a shortcut to surprise through some troubled terrain. We meet and grow to care deeply for his conventional, sometimes procrustean parents and his older brothers in suburban Webster Groves, Mo. We squirm as he tells us about his geeky boyhood, compulsively reading Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and his awkward adolescence. An early section on Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl reveals its importance 100 pages later. We read about church camp and high-school pranks, including repeated attempts by Franzen and his friends to get an automobile tire over the school's flagpole. We learn why he majored in German in college and why he greatly admired a professor almost everyone else despised. We see the enduring conflict between man and boy that rages within him even now. He relates painful, protracted tales of his sexual awakenings and rejections; he grieves about his failed marriage. He explores what heat first thinks is his odd affinity for birds. Only rarely does he talk specifically about his emergence as a writer, but it's all there, right in front of you. Quirky, funny, poignant, self-deprecating and ultimately wise.
Lovely, lyrical, and precise . . . What The Discomfort Zone resembles, in fact, is an old-fashioned diorama in a museum, displaying the airborne author at each stage of this evolution.” James Marcus, Los Angeles Times
“Funny, masterfully composed . . . For those eagerly awaiting his Corrections follow-up, this will help get you through the night.” Gregory Kirschling, Entertainment Weekly
“Jonathan Franzen's contribution to the genre is so expertly shaped . . . so genuinely, organically thought-provoking, that I wish I could yank it off the shelf where it will inevitably sit with the autobiographical writing of other hip authors.” Adam Begley, The New York Observer
“If it were possible to calculate the frequency of mots justes in a piece of prose, Franzen's ranking would be through the roof.” Lev Grossman, Time
“At once elegiac and unsentimental, mournful and joyful. . . . The most intimate glimpse into the author's interior life.” Dan Cryer, The Boston Globe
“The sub subtext of these essaysthat Franzen is Franzen, a flat-out brilliant writer and wickedly incisive observerstrips away much of the self-effacement that coats the surface.” Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“A brilliantly talented writer, Franzen is more aware than most Americans of the ironies of individuality and citizenship. There are many moments here that bring together the individual and group experience of being American.” Michael Sims, BookPage
“With comic verve, Franzen lays out his neuroses and his gullibility to the cultural moment he inhabited. He nails the essence of adolescence itself.” Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
“For those who admire the razor-sharp jabs Franzen akes at himself and anyone else standing too close, The Discomfort Zone is both a delicious read and a clever showcase for Franzen's talents.” Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor
“Quirky, funny, poignant, self-deprecating, and ultimately wise.” Kirkus Reviews
“Franzen has a talent for seamless transitions and for weaving together multiple lines of thought. . . . About as good a summary as I've read of the times we live in.” Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today