Friday, September 08, 2006

"The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History"

No author should have his reputation swim or (more likely) sink on the opinion of Michiko Kakutani, who was pretty rough of Jonathan Franzen's new memoir, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History.

So, here I give you the first few paragraphs of Marjorie Kehe's review of the book in the Christian Science Monitor:
Reading Jonathan Franzen always reminds me of the day in sixth-grade math when Miss Worrell explained binary systems to us: twofold worlds alternating between on and off.
At least, that's how I experienced The Corrections, Franzen's award-winning novel of family life gone awry. There are the parts that are sidesplittingly funny and there are the parts that serve up jolts of cringe-inducing pain. And there are plenty of places where the reader is bounced mid-sentence from one sensation to the other.

Franzen's new book, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History, a collection of essays about his life, offers the same kind of whipsaw reading experience. It's hilarious and it's painful. It's sharply insightful and it's also frustratingly obtuse.

No human being should have to experience the self-loathing that Franzen appears to feel for his youthful self. But then again neither should anyone be so exhaustingly and blindly self-involved. And yet Franzen is, and somehow manages to convey that to us in equal measures of humor and painful acuity.

Kehe gives brief, helpful synopses of the book's chapters here.

--Marshal Zeringue