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Publisher's Summary

Jonathan Franzen arrived late, and last, in a family of boys in Webster Groves, Missouri. The Discomfort Zone is his intimate memoir of his development from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person", through an adolescence both excruciating and strangely happy, into an adult with embarrassing and unexpected passions. It's also a portrait of a middle-class family weathering the turbulence of the 1970s, and a vivid personal history of the decades in which America turned away from its mid-century idealism and became a more polarized society.

The story Franzen tells here draws on elements as varied as the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s; the effects of Kafka's fiction on his protracted quest to lose his virginity; the elaborate pranks that he and his friends orchestrated from the roof of his high school; his self-inflicted travails in selling his mother's house after her death; and the web of connections between his all-consuming marriage, the problem of global warming, and the life lessons to be learned from watching birds.

These chapters of a Midwestern youth and a New York adulthood are warmed by the same combination of comic scrutiny and unqualified affection that characterize Franzen's fiction, but here the main character is the author himself. Sparkling, daring, arrestingly honest, The Discomfort Zone narrates the formation of a unique mind and heart in the crucible of an everyday American family.

©2006 Jonathan Franzen (P)2006 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

"Wonderful." (Publishers Weekly)
"[A] gratifyingly unpredictable and finely crafted collection." (Booklist)

What listeners say about The Discomfort Zone

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good narration, like some essays more than others

Although I did not like every essay as much as I liked the first, I found this audiobook very satisfying and engaging. I didn't expect to want to listen to the whole thing, I just chose it in my ipod as a time filler after finishing another book on my commute home, but it held my attention and invited me back every time I entered the car. After purchasing the audiobook I had read a bad book review and hadn't expected to enjoy the book so much. Jonathan Franzen is an intelligent and thoughtful writer, and a surprisingly good narrator. For those who appreciate biographical essays, this is an enjoyable choice.

16 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A memoir in themes

I picked this up after devouring Crossroads, wanting to get a sense of its autobiographical roots. The Discomfort Zone starts like a memoir, revisiting childhood (and in this case, delivering the hoped-for backstory of Franzen’s family life, youth group, college years, etc). It was fun learning that as a child and youth he had he was neurotic in many of the same ways I was. Later chapters view life through the lenses of very specific themes: German literature and birding. Because I enjoyed studying comparative literature in college, I delighted in hearing Franzen recount moments in class that led to deeper understanding of himself. But because I have yet to connect with birding, I found that chapter less engaging. But what I love so much about Franzen’s novels is his exploration of complexities of family life, the places of love, faith, guilt, disappointment, being a child, being a parent; and this memoir illuminated his take on all these questions.

I’m partial to memoirs read by the author. I enjoyed hearing Franzen in his own voice, particularly his gorgeous German.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Biography, Intimacy, Insight, and Great Humor

When an author reads his own work/words, the reader can get a much more intimate feel for the emotional investment he has in the material. These are well crafted stories from Jon's life and are read with humor, embarrassment, confession, and celebration. These stories are intimate revelations of friends, family, and cohorts, clumsy romances, great loyalties, dare-devil missions of questionable import, birding expeditions (of course), but mostly beautiful illustrations of the struggle of the heart and mind to find meaning, purpose and intimacy. Where Jon's colossal novels challenge the reader, these stories embrace the reader. This book is a gem of humanity.