The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen

I just finished Franzen’s memoir, due out in September, and I must say that I was disappointed. This is not a traditional memoir, rather it’s collected essays, several of which have been in the New Yorker previously. Remember the article he wrote on Charles Schulz several years ago when Fantagraphics began reprinting all of the Peanuts? That’s in there as is the article on birding. Already I’ve read two of the six chapters in a slim, 197 page book.

Don’t get me wrong. I personally think Franzen is a great writer and that’s why I am disappointed—I wanted more. I loved the first essay ‘House for Sale’, which moves back and forth from today to his teenage years, where Franzen’s remembrance of his years in the Christian Fellowship made me squirm. The same with the following two essays. After that, the book loses steam, the essays lose their impact. I don’t know if Franzen just threw all of these together or what, but the lack of focus gives you an incomplete look at the author. Perhaps that’s what he wants, after the Oprah fiasco. I just hope his next book is stronger.

7 thoughts on “The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen

  1. ed

    Bad enough that the New Yorker subsidized Franzen’s whiny writing as therapy, but to collect TWO paychecks for it is disgraceful. Someone should kick J-Franz in the ass and get him to turn out another novel.


  2. renee

    I agree on all counts. Franzen’s fiction is so amazing, but I was never a big fan of the essays I’d read in the New Yorker.


  3. M. Faernab

    I love pieces that shift from current to passed, like the last chapter in “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brian, but so few writers use that style 😦

    BTW: I have been a reader for quite a while but I dont recall ever commenting, and thanks for the ES link, I’m now a regular reader of the blog 🙂


  4. Bookdwarf

    Thanks for reading! I suppose lots of authors do just what Franzen is doing—putting out a “filler” book while he’s working on something larger. At least that’s what I hope he is doing.


  5. pgwp

    Problem is – he already gave us his “filler” book two years ago, How to Be Alone.

    Actually I liked that book even more than his novel. I wish we could have gotten more nonfiction, even something book-length would have been surprising and more than welcome.

    This memoir is making me yawn, though. He is really treading water right now.


  6. Ichabod

    Franzen probably has a finished novel ready to go. He just wants enough time as possible to pass to avoid having the Oprah Fiasco from being brought up.


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