The Discomfort Zone is Jonathan Franzen's memoir of growing up squirming in his own uber-sensitive skin, from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person," through a strangely happy adolescence, into an adult with strong and inconvenient passions. His story cascades from moments of high drama into multilayered fields of sometimes truculent, sometimes piercing, always entertaining investigation and insight. Whether he's writing about the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, the effects of Kafka's fiction on his own protracted quest to loose his virginity, or the web of connections between bird-watching, his all-consuming marriage, and the problem of global warming, Franzen is always feelingly engaged with the world we live in now.
A common thread running through the essays is the peeling away of childish illusion to reveal a second reality -- the very definition of growing up, and a discomfort zone if there ever was one. Discovering the beauty and ubiquity of birds, for instance, after a lifetime of looking at them but not seeing them, made Franzen feel as if he'd always "been mistaken about something important." Franzen may be known as The Man Who Said No To Oprah; he's written about that pop-culture melodrama elsewhere, thankfully. Here, we get the small, unexpectedly fraught moments that accumulate into a life. They're interesting merely because they happened to Franzen, who has the enviable ability to make them so.