Book Review: The Discomfort Zone

The Discomfort Zone

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History


Title:
The Discomfort Zone
Author: Jonathan Franzen
First Published: 2006
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3.37)
Format: Paperback, 195 pages
First line: There’d been a storm that evening in St. Louis.

This one had a very promising start: good writing and some absolutely brilliant and humoristic observations on the agonies of childhood, the desire to appear cool to peers which is completely ruined when you are forced to tag along with your parents. Here’s an example: The protagonist is being forced to go to Disney World with his parents, even though he doesn’t want to go – especially not with his parents:

I begged my mother to let me wear my cutoff jeans and a T-shirt for the day, but my mother won the argument, and I arrived at Disney World in an ensemble of pleated shorts and a Bing Crosbyish sport shirt. Dressed like this, miserable with self-consciousness, I moved my feet only when I was directly ordered to. All I wanted to do was go sit in our car and read. In front of each themed ride, my mother asked me if it didn’t look like lots of fun, but I saw the other teenagers waiting in line, and I felt their eyes on my clothes and my parents, and my throat ached, and I said the line was too long.

Franzen really hit teenage embarrassment on the nail. And then there were some amazing paragraphs on Peanuts and Charlie Brown. Being an old Peanut-fan, I enjoyed these immensely. So at times, the book felt like a good solid 4-star-read – maybe even a 5 star-read. But then there were passages that seemed to drag a bit. An example is the last chapter that’s primarily about bird watching, where I must admit I skipped a few pages here and there. Growing up in a family with bird watchers, I don’t have the slightest need to here more about birds, thank you very much. And I can see other readers were annoyed with this too.

And in general, I missed a real plot. This is “just” Franzen looking back on his life. The stories he tells us in the first two chapters are fun and touching, but then things started going wrong. There are stories about a Fellowship church camp and his high school gang, which to me were pretty boring. He then moves on to college, where things got a bit interesting again, but then he killed it by finishing off with a bird watching chapter.

I think I would like to try one of his novels the next time. I think the fun chapters will be the ones that stay with me, and I would love to see what he can do with fiction – and an actual plot.


Denne bog havde en meget lovende start: den er velskrevet og har nogle helt fantastiske og humoristisk observationer af barndoms- og ungdomskvaler – fx det desperate ønske om at virke cool overfor jævnaldrene som bliver fuldstændigt ødelagt når man er sammen med sine forældre. Her er et ret godt eksempel: Hovedpersonen er tvunget til at tage med til Disney World med sine forældre, selvom han ikke har lyst- især ikke sammen med sine forældre:

I begged my mother to let me wear my cutoff jeans and a T-shirt for the day, but my mother won the argument, and I arrived at Disney World in an ensemble of pleated shorts and a Bing Crosbyish sport shirt. Dressed like this, miserable with self-consciousness, I moved my feet only when I was directly ordered to. All I wanted to do was go sit in our car and read. In front of each themed ride, my mother asked me if it didn’t look like lots of fun, but I saw the other teenagers waiting in line, and I felt their eyes on my clothes and my parents, and my throat ached, and I said the line was too long.

Franzen rammer virkelig plet I sin beskrivelse af teenage-flovhed. Og så var der nogle fantastiske afsnit om Radiserne og Søren Brun. Jeg er en gammel Radise-fan, så jeg nød virkelig de her afsnit. Det virkede umiddelbart som om denne bog ville ende med at få 4 stjerner – måske endda 5 stjerner. Men så var der kapitler, der var enormt langtrukne. Et eksempel er det sidste kapitel, der stort set kun handler om ornitologi. Her må jeg indrømme, at jeg sprang et par sider over. Jeg er vokset op i et ornitolog-hjem og har ikke det mindste behov for at høre mere om fugle. Ellers tak. Og jeg kan se, at der er mange læsere, der også var irriterede over netop dette kapitel.

Og generelt savnede jeg et “rigtigt” plot. Historien er “bare” Franzen, der ser tilbage på sit liv. De historier, han fortæller os i de første to kapitler er sjove og rørende, men så begynder det at gå galt. Der er historier om en kristen lejrskole og hans high school bande, som for mig var temmelig kedelige og jeg skulle tvinge mig selv til at holde opmærksomheden på siden. Han går så videre til college, hvor det bliver lidt interessant igen, men så går det galt igen da han afslutter med kapitlet om fugle.

Jeg tror, jeg vil prøve en af Franzens romaner næste gang. De sjove kapitler om barndommen og de tidlige teenage-år vil være dem, jeg vil huske, og jeg ville elske at se, hvad Franzen kan gøre med fiktion – og et rigtigt plot.

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