franzen comes of age


I’m not sure I can tell you the difference between a “personal history” and a memoir, but Jonathan Franzen’s contribution to the genre is so expertly shaped and composed, 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 perhaps too young to be writing autobiography (Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Rick Moody’s The Black Veil, Jonathan Lethem’s The Disappointment Artist, etc.), and toss it into the bleak anonymity of some loosely defined territory like “General Nonfiction.” The only problem is that the six essays in The Discomfort Zone, though they tackle topics as various as Charles Schulz, Franz Kafka and bird watching, are frankly autobiographical. Together they add up to an account, often artfully indirect, of Jonathan Franzen’s protracted coming-of-age—a period that overlaps, in part, with his development as a novelist. Though it never actually mentions either his first two novels or The Corrections (2001), The Discomfort Zone doubles as a map of the route Mr. Franzen traveled to get to the point where he could write his wonderful third novel. So this is, willy-nilly, a writer’s personal history.

more from the NY Observer here.