This is my second work by Franzen. My first being The Corrections, I was surprised to find that there are more than a few parallels.
It feels a bit like he wrote The Corrections, then turned right around, edited a few chapters adjusted a few things, and then put out this book.
Which is charming. It’s about an awkward teenager and his high-jinks, attempts to loose his virginity, complicated relationship with his parents, growing up in St. Louis, and then his adult hood in New York.
Franzen is a great writer and it shows because he is able to take a “been there done” topic (coming of age books; pimply teenager awkwardness) and makes it seem fresh, new and funny. Insightful, even.
Not only are some parts very funny, there was one chapter that I found to be downright brilliant.
It concerns Franzen’s learning of German and subsequent encounter with German literature and philosophy. One of the best bits is his moody yet brilliant professor’s discussion of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Now, I loved The Trial, and felt quite confident that I had pretty much heard everything there was to hear about the book.
But Franzen, channeling this one professor, describes that there are three possible interpretations: K is innocent or you can not decide weather K is guilty or not, and a third, he is guilty.
This blew my mind. Because, of course, K is innocent, right? My understanding of the book was based on the assumption of his innocence. That’s what makes Kafka the author of the 20th century. But read assuming that K is a scumbag and is guilty – and there is serious textual evidence for this – it makes even more sense.
I’m planning on re-reading The Trial at the earliest possible moment now.
The Discomfort Zone is interesting, well written and fun. Your time might be better spent by reading Kafka, however.