September 25, 2006 12:00 PM

by Jonathan Franzen

REVIEWED BY LEE AITKEN

MEMOIR

It is the exceptional writer who can enthrall readers on subjects—bird-watching and high school pranks, say—they care nothing about, and on that score, Franzen’s memoir of growing up in Missouri falls short. Elsewhere, though, Franzen employs the psychological acuity that made The Corrections so compelling. Here, he turns the same scrutiny on his adolescent self, a “small and squeaky” bookworm. He also mounts a heartfelt defense of life “in the middle of the country in the … golden age of the American middle class” with a virtuoso critique of 21st-century values, reminding us that he has a keen political conscience as well as a narrative gift.

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