The Discomfort Zone

Jonathan Franzen, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23 (195p) ISBN 978-0-374-29919-4

National Book Award–winner Franzen's first foray into memoir begins and ends with his mother's death in Franzen's adulthood. In between, he takes a sarcastic, humorous and intimate look at the painful awkwardness of adolescence. As a young observer rather than a participant, Franzen offers a fresh take on the sometimes tumultuous, sometimes uneventful America of the 1960s and '70s. A not very popular, bookish kid, Franzen (The Corrections ) and his high school buddies, in one of the book's most memorable episodes, attempt to loop a tire, ring-toss–style, over their school's 40-foot flag pole as part of a series of flailing pranks. Franzen watches his older brother storm out of the house toward a wayward hippe life, while he ultimately follows along his father's straight-and-narrow path. Franzen traces back to his teenage years the roots of his enduring trouble with women, his pursuit of a precarious career as a writer and his recent life-affirming obsession with bird-watching. While Franzen's family was unmarked by significant tragedy, the common yet painful contradictions of growing up are at the heart of this wonderful book (parts of which appeared in the New Yorker ): "You're miserable and ashamed if you don't believe your adolescent troubles matter, but you're stupid if you do." (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 05/29/2006
Release date: 09/01/2006
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Compact Disc - 6 pages - 978-1-59887-054-1
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