Jonathan Franzen’s Discomfort Zone

I like Jonathan Franzen’s writing. I like his storytelling ability, the power, the elegance and the clarity in his writing.

But, I have mixed feelings about “The Discomfort Zone”. That four of the six chapters of the books have previously appeared, as separate pieces in the New Yorker, makes you think that Franzen used these pre-existing essays to produce a personal history-narrative. Perhaps this is the reason that the book lacks the continuity and the linearity of a memoir and, it also a good reason not to buy this book; I have borrowed mine from the library.

Centrally Located” is the less successful chapter of the book. Despite the abundance of characters, and dialogue (a high school chess team, form a group of teen pranksters called DIOTI— an anagram of Idiot), the story lacks purpose and destination. Perhaps the reader would benefit from skipping a few pages.

Despite the structural problems and the redundancies that make the book good but not great, is worth reading. The “House for Sale” and “My Bird Problem,” are truly wonderful essays. Franzen’s writing is strong, humorous and engaging. Dominant is his disregard for political-correctness, too.

[..... I was enraged about the aftermath of Katrina, too. For a while, that September, I couldn’t go online, open a newspaper, or even take cash from an ATM without encountering entreaties to aid the hurricane’s homeless victims. The fund-raising apparatus was so far-reaching and well orchestrated it seemed quasi-official, like the “Support Our Troops” ribbons that had shown up on half the country’s cars overnight. But it seemed to me that helping Katrina’s homeless victims ought to be the  government’s job, not mine. I’d always voted for candidates who wanted to raise my taxes, because I thought paying taxes was patriotic and because my idea of how to be left alone—my libertarian ideal!—was a well-funded, well-managed central government that spared me from having to make a hundred different spending decisions every week. Like, was Katrina as bad as the Pakistan earthquake? As bad as breast cancer? As bad as AIDS in Africa? Not as bad? How much less bad? I wanted my government to figure these things out.
It was true that the Bush tax cuts had put some extra money in my pocket, and even those of us who hadn’t voted for a privatised America still obliged to be good citizens. But with government abandoning so many of its former responsibilities, there were now hundreds of new causes to contribute to. Bush hadn’t just neglected emergency management and flood control; aside from Iraq, there wasn’t much he hadn’t neglected. Why should I pony up for this particular disaster? And why give political succor to people I believed were ruining the country? If the Republicans were so opposed to big government, let them ask their own donors to pony up! ……]