So I was listening to NPR while making dinner last night, and Terri Gross was interviewing Jonathan Franzen (he of National Book Award & Oprah-controversy fame for The Corrections) about his new memoir The Discomfort Zone. I’m eager to read this memoir, because I am always intrigued when novelists go nonfiction, and because I loved his essay collection How To Be Alone, particularly the title piece. I will admit to avoiding The Corrections, though I have no good reason for this; I’ve never heard someone say it was bad. It’s just…it looks depressing in a way that might be too close to home for me.
Anyhow, so Terri is talking to Franzen about his childhood and why he opened with a chapter in which he makes himself look so bad and Franzen basically says that he had a happy childhood and when it comes to writing memoir in the United States in these dark times, happy childhoods don’t fly. Those weren’t his exact words, but I felt like Terri caught him in something, that maybe Franzen’s novelistic reflexes took over more than even he expected. That this book might be an extreme case of the situation vs. the story, in which the story won out a little too much. Of course, I haven’t read it, so it is hard to say, but I definitely felt a little uncomfortable with the way Franzen was talking about writing his memoir vs. the way he talked about real-life events of his past. Anyway, it was an interesting interview and you can hear the whole thing here on NPR’s web site.
I should note that there was a fairly unfriendly review of The Discomfort Zone in the NY Times a week or so ago, in which the always-brutal Michiko Kakutani describes the memoir as “an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass.” Ouch.