The Discomfort Zone
A Personal History
By Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374299194, 208pp.
Publication Date: September 5, 2006
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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 1970s, and a vivid personal history of the decades in which America turned away from its midcentury idealism and became a more polarized society.
The story Franzen tells here draws on elements as varied as the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, 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 birds.
These 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 National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner. He is also the author of Freedom, selected for Oprah’s Book Club, The Twenty-Seventh City, Strong Motion, and How to Be Alone, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In 1996, he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California.
Praise for How to Be Alone:
"This collection emphasizes [Franzen's] elegance, acumen and daring as an essayist, with an intellectually engaging self-awareness as formidable as Joan Didion's." --Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Jonathan Franzen is one of the most nuanced minds at works in the dwindling republic of letters." --Richard Lacayo, Time
"There's some boldness, then, in how Franzen reclaims his pain on the page, owning up to it and, as any good journalist will, making it our own, too." --John Freeman, The San Francisco Chronicle
"Franzen's ability to articulate the tension between our intimate and public lives is his great strength." --Valerie Ellis, The Boston Review
"How to Be Alone reaffirms the novelist's prerogative to engage in social criticism And Franzen's calm, passionate critical authority derives not from any special expertise in criminology, neurology or postal science, but rather from the fact that, as a novelist, he is principally concerned with the messy architecture of the self." --A.O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review