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Kakutani: portait of the artist as a young jackass

Michiko Kakutani lets 'er rip today in her review of Jonathan Franzen's new book “The Discomfort Zone":

In his new memoir, “The Discomfort Zone,” Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed. He tells us that as a child he was “a small glutton for attention, forever turning conversations to the subject of myself.” He tells us that he felt put upon by public entreaties to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. (“Why should I pony up for this particular disaster?”) And he tells us that he used to find it difficult to enjoy nature’s beauty: a hike up to a spectacular summit was never enough; instead he would imagine himself “in a movie with this vista in the background and various girls I’d known in high school and college watching the movie and being impressed with me.”

While some readers will want to give Mr. Franzen points for being so revealing about himself, there is something oddly preening about his self-inventory of sins, as though he actually reveled in being so disagreeable. And while it doubtless takes a degree of self-absorption for anyone to write a memoir, in the case of this book the author’s self-involvement not only makes for an incredibly annoying portrait, but also funnels the narrative into a dismayingly narrow channel.