The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal HistoryI enjoyed some of the stories of him as a kid, especially the Christian stuff, less so his school exploits However, I am not a fan of writer as hero books with context, and other characters, left fuzzy, and so I found the book mostly pretty tedious. A Mixed BagI believe Jonathan Franzen fans will be both delighted and disappointed with this collection, The Discomfort Zone. It starts out very strong, showing off Franzen s remarkable vocabulary, storytelling ability, and his disregard for political correctness In a piece called, House for Sale, Franzen tells what it feels like to take on the chore of emptying and selling what was his childhood home Anyone who has faced the death of a parent and has undergone this emotional task will relate to his musings, admissions, and actions We get to know his mother in this opening tale and soon learn she is a central figure throughout the collection At first her controlling nature seems relatively benign, when we learn she s written the classified ad meant to showoff her home her most successful investment in the best light Having done extensive research on her St Louis area neighborhood prior to her death, she even suggests an asking price Franzen uses this story to kick off a theme, where he comes off as a continual disappointment to his strict, provincial parents and shows how his mother s strong opinions have deeply affected his life.The second entry, Two Ponies, focuses on Peanuts cartoon creator Charles Schulz, and how Franzen related or didn t relate to the characters He also relates to Schulz himself, particularly because of Schulz s feelings as an outsider while growing up Additionally, I believe he admired Schulz for holding a grudge regarding his disdain for the label Peanuts placed upon his life s work What I liked about Two Ponies, is that I grew up reading this comic strip and could therefore relate to Franzen s story, and I liked the way the writing comes full circle.Unfortunately, for me the collection goes downhill from there Long passages about a Fellowship church camp and its youth minister, Mutton a tale about his high school gang attempting acts of vandalism, and too much German translations included during a semester abroad, seem to be written for himself and the characters he portrays than the general public.Finally, with My Bird Problem, Franzen is back on track He offers political and personal takes on global warming, our country s energy policy, along with intimate revelations about his marriage and an ensuing relationship, and ultimately his passion for birding and what it has taught him about himself and his mother.Readable in one day. In which I tell Jonathan Franzen to stop trying to distract me with goddamned ducks, dammit Why not call it essays Or a memoir Because Franzen is at pains to show you what a cool cat he is, that s why Franzen s a different animal here, is all I can say or, perhaps aptly I come to strange realizations about the big grump I ve always loved I was drawn to The Discomfort Zone because he can be so incisive about his family see his other essays in How to Be Alone and in Farther Away, which I read and enjoyed in last year s blog coma and, consequently, himself that is, I saw The Discomfort Zone as a back door into The Corrections and partly into Freedom This is Franzen, I told myself, unadorned no excuse of fiction to cover it up This is, perhaps, the curmudgeon explained, if obliquely Why do you read memoirs, Sasha Reading The Discomfort Zone, however, I m reminded of how much I have always hated the man s digressions In The Corrections, it was Lithuanian shenanigans in Freedom, it was the goddamned environment and the frakking birds everywhere I understand now, however, that this is how Franzen s mind works Franzen, I ve found, shies away from an indulgent narrative about families about his family, here in particular Snidely, I think His essays need to have reach they shouldn t only be about the Franzens And so Family dynamics should naturally draw on Snoopy and its creator An awkward adolescence too enlightening, really who knew Franzen was such a big dorkus dignified by an examination of the youth group he belonged to Selling the house his mother had spent nearly a lifetime to build a house full, no doubt, of his mother s disappoints should lead to a dissection of real estate in America And, goddammit, troubles with his wife should veer into bird watching in them good ol United States.Perhaps he s living up to that irritating moniker, a personal history that this wasn t indulgent and navel gazing, that this wasn t a book of essays that focused merely on one s self This was broad this tackled Big Issues But come on, Jon Your family is the story, your patent uncoolness is the story, your heartaches and your disappointments are the story Stop trying to distract me with ducks, dammit I loved him best when he let go, when he so baldly talked about what made him tick I loved it when he was earnest, if clumsy I ve always maintained that Franzen possesses such heart, all the better because it is so unexpected and it s no different here More of that, please.A tiny voice in my head sneers that this is just about what interests me I tell that tiny voice that it is mostly right I wanted a personal Franzen I found that in How to Be Alone, and I found that in about one and a half essays in The Discomfort Zone What these have in common, aside from the family as touchstone Language and literature, the wielding and the imbibing of I will argue, though, that those remain personal That is I found a personal Franzen than what we normally see and read In much the same way I can t seem to sever my private life from my reading life when I blab here, Franzen assures me that the books one devours and the life one tries so very hard to lead are intricately, if irrevocably, connected So, you know More of that, please cross posted I am perplexed by the New York Times reviewers antipathy to this book I have always found Franzen to be a captivating essayist, and Discomfort Zone is no exception Most distressing to his critics, it seems, is Discomfort Zone s abundant narcissism but I found the essays to be a reflection on youthful egotism from a mature and contrite remove To the Times reviewers, Franzen s description of his family is sterile and unloving His disarming, sometimes misguided candor, seems instead, to me, a genuine struggle to reconcile the myopic interiority of childhood a common enough crime and the smothering expectations and self abnegation of his parents again, common enough Hilariously, the author resents his own liberal beliefs he is bitter at his own convictions that he should moderate his material consumption and sacrifice to promote the welfare of others sentiments I often intuit from the liberal community but never hear articulated I found none of these confessions outsized or repugnant If anything, I found Franzen s view of himself and his family refreshingly healthy and honest No family is free of resentment, and all resentment is rooted in a sense of entitlement.The essays are not contiguous Each is an autonomous work three of the five have appeared in the New Yorker Each paints a picture of Franzen s emotional development The second, for example, describes a boy aware of his many sins but comically oblivious to the degrees by which they vary Just after summer vacation started, Toczko ran out into Grant Road and was killed by a car What little I knew then about the world s badness I knew mainly from a camping trip, some years earlier, when I d dropped a frog into a campfire and watched it shrivel and roll down the flat side of a log I felt guilty about Toczko I felt guilty about the little frog I felt guilty about shunning my mother s hugs when she seemed to need them most I felt guilty about the washcloths at the bottom of the stack in the linen closet, the older, thinner washcloths that we seldom used I felt guilty for preferring my best shooter marbles, a solid red agate and a solid yellow agate, my king and my queen, to marbles father down my rigid marble hierarchy The most enticing thing about Franzen s essays is his use of the objective correlative In his early childhood, the author s identification with Snoopy of the Peanuts comics conveys all we need to know about his buoyant and wicked playfulness In his early adulthood, the author s fascination with dark, psychological German literature dovetails his sexual preoccupations, his frustrated literary ambitions, and the realization of his parents frailty In each essay, the objective correlative weaves neatly into the personal history, sometimes as a reprieve from the traditional narrative and sometimes as a momentum building digression from it It s an effective mechanism, mostly light hearted, sometimes nerdy, and almost always charming. Franzen trying to dissect his own existence isn t quite as thrilling as Franzen dissecting the existence of the characters in his novels, but this definitely has its moments, and unlike so many memoir ish books, this has no interest in romanticizing anything from out of the past, in fact when it works well, it does so because it reminds you that a mid western, middle class upbringing I m telegraphing myself into this now is usually just full of a lot of petty little triumphs and disappointments, and that genuinely formative experiences are usually few and far between, and almost never recognized as such at the time It s also got some really great ruminations on the nesessity of isolation for the creative process, Charles Schultz, wildlife conservation, bird watching, the minor hypocrisies of being a middle aged, urban liberal, the really grotesque hypocrisies of being a neo conservative anywhere, the creepy insularity of church youth groups, etc Overall I found it by turns manic and poignant. I read the New York Times review of The Discomfort Zone earlier today The Times conclusion after reading was that Jonathan Franzen is hopelessly self absorbed I don t disagree, but I don t think that s such a terrible thing We re all self absorbed and at least Franzen had the good sense to use it for comedy.Anyways, onward with my review I enjoyed learning about Franzen as a person I liked seeing how his personal experiences fascination with birds, environmentalism, strange relationship with his mother, etc are echoed through his characters in his novels It seems to me that Franzen uses his characters as a vehicle to express his own feelings and the character development in his fiction is much deeper than that in The Discomfort Zone After reading stories about Franzen s own interactions with his family, particularly his mother, I was reminded of his character Joey from the novel Freedom I remember a particularly vivid scene where Joey, after a phone conversation with his mother Patty, begins to cry and looks for a nearby bush in which to hide himself Joey s conversation with his mother made him so upset that he was moved to tears, his stomach was unsettled and he felt he might have to vomit That sort of raw emotion isn t found in The Discomfort Zone Franzen discusses the unhappiness he felt with himself at certain points in his life, at one point referring to himself as a small and fundamentally ridiculous person , but it s obvious that even though he s written a memoir, he s keeping the truly revealing moments to himself.I really enjoyed Franzen s reflections on his childhood and adolescence there were moments that made me laugh out loud For me, the most memorable parts of the book came with Franzen s reflections on his love for the Peanuts comic strip He wrote Like most of the nation s ten year olds, I had a private, intense relationship with Snoopy, the cartoon beagle He was a solitary not animal animal who lived among larger creatures of a different species, which was or less my feeling in my own house Franzen continued later Everything I do makes me feel guilty, says Charlie Brown He s at the beach, and he has just thrown a pebble into the water and Linus has commented, Nice going it took that rock four thousand years to get to shore, and now you ve thrown it back I felt guilty about shunning my mother s hugs when she seemed to need them most I felt guilty about the washcloths at the bottom of the stack in the linen closet, the older, thinner, washcloths that were seldom used I felt guilty for preferring my best shooter marbles, a solid red agate and a solid yellow agate, my king and my queen, to marble further down my rigid marble hierarchy I felt guilty about the board games that I didn t like to play Uncle Wiggily, U.S Presidential Elections, Game of the States and sometimes, when my friends weren t around, I opened the boxes and examined the pieces in the hope of making the games feel less forgotten I felt guilty about neglecting the stiff limbed, scratchy pelted Mr Bear, who had no voice and didn t mix well with the other animals To avoid feeling guilty about them, too, I slept with one of them per night, according to a strict weekly schedule That passage really reminded me of what it s like to be a child and to feel ashamed for having the most innocent of preferences Though The Discomfort Zone didn t delve into adult emotions as well as his novels, I thought Franzen captured the feelings of a child perfectly. Jonathan Franzen has come home to St Louis to get his parent s house ready to sell after the death of his mother While he is waiting for it to sell he reflects on the significant moments of his life with particular emphasis on his childhood The language in the book is beautiful and it is well constructed but for me, the characters were flat and uninteresting For someone who has had such a rich and varied life and writes so well I think he could have come up with interesting things to talk about Even when his marriage is in trouble there is such a sense of distance that it is hard to care about the outcome.I found myself having to force my attention back to the story time and time again On so many levels this is a lovely book but in the end I just didn t care enough If I hadn t been reading it for the committee I probably would have stopped reading it at some point along the way. Franzen is a good writer, but leaves you with that nagging feeling that you wouldn t like him if you met him He s awfully self absorbed Still, I really enjoyed this dream he relates and he seems to be aware there s much truth in it I had a nightmare about the Averys sweet tempered German shepherd, Ina In the dream, as I was sitting on the floor in the Averys living room, the dog walked up to me and began to insult me She said I was a frivolous, cynical, attention seeking fag whose entire life had been phony I answered her frivolously and cynically and chucked her under the chin She grinned at me with malice, as if to make clear that she understood me to the core Then she sank her teeth into my arm As I fell over backward, she went for my throat. The Discomfort Zone, A Personal History T .The Discomfort Zone , Purity The Discomfort Zone , DIOTI . Jonathan Franzen Arrived Late, And Last, In A Family Of Boys In Webster Groves, Missouri The Discomfort Zone Is His Intimate Memoir Of His Growth From A Small And Fundamentally Ridiculous Person, Through An Adolescence Both Excruciating And Strangely Happy, Into An Adult With Embarrassing And Unexpected Passions It S Also A Portrait Of A Middle Class Family Weathering The Turbulence Of The S, And A Vivid Personal History Of The Decades In Which America Turned Away From Its Midcentury Idealism And Became A Polarized SocietyThe Story Franzen Tells Here Draws On Elements As Varied As The Explosive Dynamics Of A Christian Youth Fellowship In The S, The Effects Of Kafka S Fiction On His Protracted Quest To Lose His Virginity, The Elaborate Pranks That He And His Friends Orchestrated From The Roof Of His High School, His Self Inflicted Travails In Selling His Mother S House After Her Death, And The Web Of Connections Between His All Consuming Marriage, The Problem Of Global Warming, And The Life Lessons To Be Learned In Watching BirdsThese Chapters Of A Midwestern Youth And A New York Adulthood Are Warmed By The Same Combination Of Comic Scrutiny And Unqualified Affection That Characterize Franzen S Fiction, But Here The Main Character Is The Author Himself Sparkling, Daring, Arrestingly Honest, The Discomfort Zone Narrates The Formation Of A Unique Mind And Heart In The Crucible Of An Everyday American Family

Jonathan Franzen is the author of The Corrections, winner of the 2001 National Book Award for fiction the novels The Twenty Seventh City and Strong Motion and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by FSG His fourth novel, Freedom, was published in the fall of 2010.Franzen s other honors include a 1988 Whiting Writers Award, Granta s Best Of Young Ameri

[KINDLE] ❆ The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History Author Jonathan Franzen –
  • Hardcover
  • 195 pages
  • The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • English
  • 21 June 2019
  • 9780374299194

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