Franzen, the much-admired author of The Corrections, has already shown himself equally at ease in non-fiction in How To Be Alone, which encompassed such topics as the US postal service, sex advice books, and the future of the novel. Although this collection included some autobiographical offerings (notably one on the experience of being first promoted by Oprah Winfrey, then dropped by her after making disobliging comments), it was dominated by essays and other journalism. An attempt was made to suggest an overall theme – the complex self’s battle to survive in a society of ‘technological consumerism’ – but it was essentially a familiar kind of fame-exploiting ragbag, albeit one of consistently high quality.
The Discomfort Zone differs in being autobiographical throughout and conceived as a unity from the outset – none of the chapters, judging by the copyright page, has been published before. They advance ruefully through six stages in the life of a writer who grew up ‘in the middle of the