J-Franz: A DFW in the Making?

Mr. Orthofer is well ahead of us. It looks like Jonathan Franzen has a new book, but it’s not a novel. It’s a memoir. Even worse, the book’s called The Discomfort Zone. We suppose that J-Franz should be extolled for truth in advertising. But we wonder if Franzen is venturing down the same unfortunate road as DFW. Like DFW, Franzen, after a major absence from writing (five years for Franzen, ten for DFW), has failed to write a novel after a well received title. After all, if David Mitchell has the cojones to follow up Cloud Atlas and offer a major departure in form, shouldn’t DFW or J-Franz have similar brass balls to follow up their highly regarded novels? Or perhaps the British have more courage and the American writers are just plain chicken.


  1. It’s not clear to me what “brass balls” has to do with anything. And it’s equally unclear what this “unfortunate road” is that DFW has taken. DFW has written quite a few very interesting short stories since Infinite Jest. That you found Oblivion overall not to your liking doesn’t change the fact that he has been attempting something in his fiction, with some success, I think, but also with some stumbles, and perhaps has found the short story to be more suited to these attempts.

    How long did Infinite Jest take to write? Why do we expect authors to continually “follow up” with more and more work? Yet, for all we know, his recent short stories may be leading him into whatever his next novel will be.

    As for Franzen, I don’t care about his memoir, don’t like his “essays”, but did like The Corrections. I would rather see fiction from him, but he’s hardly as interesting a writer as DFW. The comparison seems silly.

  2. How is that silly? They’ve both written long ambitious novels. And now JF has a memoir coming out (which seems like a misstep) and DFW has written, well, not much of interest since Infinite Jest. Both his collections of short stories since then have been dissapointing.

    Readers want more new stuff from DFW so they don’t have to keep re-reading Infinite Jest. Supply and demand, brother.

  3. Since I’m qualified to speak on writerly career trajectory as mine is currently in the toilet and has been for some time, I have to note that prolificacy can most often affected by the personal life. It’s not as simple as the notion that the hearth ruins us, either. For each it’s different. For me it was my first divorce. And then my second. And then third. In any case, perhaps we’ll find clues in the memoir. I don’t wish a slow slide into obscurity upon either of these young men, but then again misery does love company.

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