Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Now They Tell Me I Have to Read Jonathan Safran Foer

I finished "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss, who is also -- it seems -- Jonathan Safran Foer's wife. They live together in the same home, I hear, and talk to each other as a result, or at least I'm willing to bet they do. I have no concrete evidence of their many (probable) exchanges, some of which might well be intimate! Who knows? I'm getting off topic and probably sounding a smidgen envious. Of who, precisely? Let your imagination run wild!

N-E-wayz, I enjoyed Krauss' fiction published in the New Yorker recently (before I knew she was married, or to whom, so you'll have to excuse my obliviousness), and I wanted to check out a novel of hers, accordingly. So I have, "The History of Love," as said. Plainly stated, the novel is mostly good with a certain amount of saccharine schmaltz that muddies it more than I would deem ideal. And yet, she uses "and yet" -- the characteristic expression of Leo Gursky, one of two characters the novel mainly concerns -- to great effect. I am perhaps alone in feeling the way I do about this, but I've decided it was appropriate in every instance it was employed, nicely timed and not overdone, despite its being often used. But that's just one thing.

Friends who've read both authors (i.e. Jonathan S. Foer and Krauss), who are more "in the know" about these two writers (because they've read both and not just one), tell me I have to read JSF, if for no other reason than the following: the two authors' styles and motifs are, they say, awfully similar. It's possible that this authorial tandem, husband & wife style, has been negatively impacted, creatively speaking, by their close proximity to one another, i.e. their marriage and life together. And if true, brings me to my next point: no marriages. Ok, ooookkkk, hold on. I'll agree to end the marriage ban on one condition: someone send me free books all the time. Or how about this? At discounted rates of the very variety. No? Fine. Great, once again I'm left with nothing, but oh well. At least I have books (-- not very discounted, though).

And one of those books is "The History of Love." I'm not sure if it's a complete history, the definite article preceding "History of Love" certainly implies that this is so, and yet . . .

Krauss nicely layers things. You begin by not knowing which way is up, which in my view is often a nice place to begin. The story is, at that point, the narrative of Leo Gursky, a man in exile from life lived, simply existing without companionship of near every kind. The best he can do is his upstairs tenant-mate, Bruno, a childhood friend who has reappeared later in life, after both men have resettled and long resided in America. Bruno may or may not be real (spoiler: he almost certainly isn't). Leo, meanwhile, is pursuing contact with his son, a professional author who doesn't even know Leo is his father. Leo falls into the locksmith trade, on arrival in America, because of a relative already in that business. Leo in turn becomes a skilled locksmith, the irony of which being he can open any door except those that matter most, the metaphorical ones that keep him from the people he'd like to be nearest to.

Meanwhile, there's young Alma Singer whose mother is depressed, having never quite gotten over the loss of her husband, Alma's father, and whose brother thinks he might be the messiah. Things change for the family when a letter arrives from a man asking Alma's mother to translate the novel, "The History of Love," a book which already has relevance in their lives for its making a profound impact on her father, who passed the book on to Alma's mother with the notation, to paraphrase, that it was the novel he would write for her if he could write.

I don't want to describe much more, as I feel that would run the risk of giving too much of the plot away (something I'm honestly trying to avoid in general on the old blog here). The other main component concerns the ostensible author of "The History of Love" -- Zvi Litvinoff. As you might imagine all the layers of this story converge, as each character's life crosses the others. It works in the end, though in a near dangerously schmaltzy manner, as said.

So now on to Jonathan Safran Foer, to see what I think about all that . . .

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