Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Franzen Envy

I’m reading a really good book – The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen. I was given his novel, The Corrections, the week after September 11 and was so grateful to have a really good, long, painfully funny story to escape to when I was nodding off from CNN overdoses. It was the book I had to buy three times after loaning it out to (foisting it upon) flaky friends. I was so excited that he'd written a new book that I bought it brand new, hardcover. The Discomfort Zone is a memoir, not an autobiography, so it's not tedious. Instead of learning about Franzen’s entire life, we get snapshots of specific events or phases, filtered through the panoramic lens of adulthood. I recognized parts of the book from essays he’d written for The New Yorker and was happy to see them expanded here. Franzen is gifted in characterization and he’s no less gifted when he is the character. He was exactly the sort of strange kid I would have made fun of when I was 12 but felt empathy for and befriended by the time I was 15, recognizing him as a fellow oddball and brilliant observer of human behavior.

Perhaps needless to say, I am insanely jealous of his skills as a writer. Lo and behold, this morning I found an essay his girlfriend wrote about feeling jealous of his talent and success. Her piece is about much more than that, though. I think she expresses, very well, what a lot of women feel but are afraid to discuss with regards to envy. Amongst men, envy is accepted as part of the competitive arena, a necessary evil on the path to success. Women are supposed to be the cooperative, bonding, nurturing sex. We put the needs of the group above the needs of the self. So what do we do, then, when that want begins to corrode our insides? I don’t know. I’m still accepting the fact that I am capable of being one jealous bitch. I push it down and pretend I'm not aware of it, like when my parents were in their nudist phase. Kathryn Chetkovich’s method is to acknowledge it and get back to her own work. Franzen has quite an advantage with this book, following the success of The Corrections. I wonder how she's dealing with it.


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Kate Massey said...

I read that whole article you mentioned and it was right on. Such a great description about the envy of women and competitiveness of two talented people.
P.S. sorry for jumping on your head when I was two. Haha.

Alannah said...

It's a great essay, isn't it? And brave on her part, to express those feelings...I thought.

You can jump on my head anytime.