Ryan's Reviews > The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
by Jonathan Franzen
"What an arrogant fool," I'm sure I defensively muttered. For though I never watch Oprah, her books are amazing. So I took up a pretentious opinion of all things Franzen-esque.
But I read "The Corrections" and it was superb. No. It was sensationally superb. So I discarded my ridiculous facade.
I listened to "How to Be Alone" on a roadtrip between Kansas and New York. Looking at the case's cover, I answered that question in my brain: "just drive through the Midwest, dummy." The backroads (even the tollroads) of the Midwest are the American epitome of emptiness.
That trip was phenomenal, though. I encountered some of the most beautiful terrain throughout the upper Midwest, lower Ontario and upstate New York. Hearing him speak "to me" about his family life made me feel like I had a wonderful friend along for the ride--despite the fact that I was taking complete pleasure in my own isolation.
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Now when I read Franzen, I'm always shocked to remember that he's not in his late-20s, gay, a little OCD and...well...me. I get so caught up in how much I embody his stories: feel them as if they were my own. His writing captures the idiosyncratic (forgive me, I'm calling myself idiosyncratic), anxious, ranting, bookish life I simultaneously try to avoid and espouse. But of course he's different. He's experienced some serious ups and downs that I hope never to encounter. Yet, I can't always resist the self-involvement of reading some of his passages in my own voice.
Perhaps this passage from page 189--where he's speaking of birds--best summarizes my own embattled connection to Franzen: "I've been told that it was bad to anthropomorphize, but I could no longer remember why. It was, in any case, anthropomorphic only to see yourself in other species, not to see them in yourself."
How often do we see ourselves in songs about love, plays laced with tragedy, books examining neuroses? Everyday, surely. And how often do we allow ourselves to descend into those stories as if they were our own; as if entering a scene as a bystander, watching the drama unfold: mute friends witnessing the scene? We cry at movies though they're fictional and have little real consequence to our actual lives.
Self-awareness is crucial to Franzen's journey. And via his probes for understanding, I become aware of how much I'm clinging to other species (whether writers or penguins) for advice and equanimity. Though I can't help but wonder: maybe Franzen's crucial to my journey, too.
||65.13%||""An old shoe is easier to invest w/comic personality than is, say, a photograph of Cary Grant. The blanker the slate, the more easily we can fill it with our own image" (39)."|