I wish that Tivo existed in real life so I could simply wind back the whole Jonathan Franzen vs. Oprah Winfrey literary spat of the decade and delete it. The controversy obscures that The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion delighted and perplexed in almost equal amounts, and The Corrections amazed me with its scope and emotional rawness. Yet it's not his novels where Franzen shines brightest and remains most hilarious, insightful and reflective. His essays make me gush and force them on friends and customers. The Discomfort Zone: A Family History (FSG, Sept. 5) continues the trends he started with How to Be Alone. His waxings on family and place equal Calvin Trillin and E.B. White in their abilities to make you smile and cringe simultaneously. He takes on the mundane and makes it magic. In each of these pieces we see his ability to laugh at his own mistakes and serious nature. We see the love and pain that all families contain—but that only the best can write about simply and honestly.
Volume 253 Issue 32 08/14/2006