A pink taxi

A pink taxi

December 20, 2010

Franzen Mania

"I think all our modern freedom of choice and questioning of tradition create an expectation that we have to actively pursue our own evolution. We are not wired as Americans to accept the life circumstances we are born into. This can create a lot of angst!"

A friend and great reader

How old is Franzen? I have seen his bespectacled face across the internet when I was searching for illustrations for the multiple entries I've already written about him. He has an ambiguous expression on a baby face. His style is casually intellectual. It seems he once starred on the Simpsons. You would recognize him by his full head of hair and his eyeglasses.

His youth took place in the Seventies, so I almost thought he would be of my generation. I soon found out that he is my uncles' age and I can tell because his references are all like theirs. He has a chapter-essay dedicated to the Peanuts. He has dissected Charles Schultz' comic strips, which I have not read in their entirety, and he extracts the whole philosophy for us. I only caught the tail-end of Snoopy mania, so was too young to understand its essence but I can certainly appreciate the references he makes today.

In the New York Times Review, the fact that he lingered on the topic of Peanuts in "The Discomfort Zone" was its major drawback. Why was Kakutani, the book reviewer, so harsh on him? Jonathan Franzen is self depricating so when Kakutani terms his memoirs as the "portrait of an artist as a jack ass" I would nuance it as "portrait of an artist as a nerd".

The details he gives may be, at times, too intricate. His teenage days, especially those spent at camp, are treated like Agassi's Boletierri days: while Franzen doesn't mention athletics, he does bring up the other issues. Peer pressure, social interactions, summer flings, pranks, alpha-male behavior and camp counselors are similar themes found in Agassi's  own memoirs. Franzen's uncanny sense of humor had me roaring with laughter in the airplane where I read "Discomfort Zone". I would shut the book at times, and allow myself a respite. My way of relishing the writing.

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