Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
Can do better
on 14 September 2009
In his book How To Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen wrote about many things, including himself. In this new book, Franzen concentrates almost entirely on himself. While a lot of what he says is worth saying, the general trajectory is a kind of memoir - specifically a writer's memoir and since writers spend most of their time sitting in a room alone, writing, they don't have much of a claim to being unique, unusual or especially entertaining. Unfortunately, when he is writing about his upbringing, his friendships, his hobbies, etc., Franzen falls into the mildly interesting category.
In How To Be Alone Franzen wrote about things, people, cities, lives, in a way that made everything he told us about interesting - and often in a way that went beyond that and on into fascination. His piece about the Chicago postal service was a case in point. Who would have thought he could make it come alive, could make it absolutely riveting? Well he did. In this book he is interesting, full-stop. It just doesn't take off into the brilliance I had come to expect from How To Be Alone, unfortunately. Inevitably this is disappointing and makes me wish he'd written The Discomfort Zone first, I would definitely have read more of his work and would thus be just discovering How To Be Alone, and I'd be a lot happier. He is a brilliant writer - especially as a novelist. Let's hope this book means he's got intense self-absorption out of his system.