Friday, October 1, 2010

Jonathan Safran Foer's About Wrapped Up My Enthusiasm for "Top 20 Under 40" Novels / Writing

"Everything is Illuminated" seemed not to work exactly the way it could have, and might have, if Jonathan Safran Foer wrote his novel in a way that synced with my tastes and made me want to read more of his writing.

If, for instance, Alex was written less cloyingly and didn't remind me of Balki Bartokomous of the '80s sitcom "Perfect Strangers," with all the pair's shared imprecise English diction and turns of phrase. If, for instance, the entire plot didn't strike me as ground already trodden in more interesting ways, which is entirely subjective, true, but my subjectivity compels me to say it anyway. If he hadn't write his novel with nearly identical structural similarities to those of his wife's "The History of Love." If his only other story I'd heretofore encountered, "Here We Aren't, So Quickly," hadn't made me want to pull my hair out so quickly (which is part of why I'm more forgiving of Nicole Krauss' complicity in making her novel structurally similar to JSF's, if this was indeed a purposeful act perpetrated by either or both of them, which I concede it probably wasn't purposeful but still rubs me the wrong way; I liked Krauss' "The Young Painters").

I was told, as I mention in my post on "The History of Love," to read Jonathan Safran Foer after finishing Krauss' novel, because their writing in a multitude of ways seems very mutually influenced, or maybe one has exercised much more influence over the other. If that were the case it would likely be Jonathan Safran Foer whose "Everything is Illuminated" came before "The History of Love," but then not before Krauss' "Man Walks into A Room," so who knows? I haven't read the latter book, though I might.

Point is, comparing "The History of Love" to "Everything is Illuminated" proved an easy task. Weird idiosyncratic and sometimes-to-always idiomatic English put forth by an Eastern European? Check, i.e. Alex Perchov and Leo Gursky / Misha. Holocaust love story around which each narrative turns? Check. Inquisitive youth in present day trying to discern the true story about and details of said Holocaust love story? CHECK, i.e. Jonathan and Alma. Story broken down into chapters told from various points of view of previously mentioned similar characters, plus chapters detailing extraneous bits of information in third person narration about Holocaust love story? Extremely CHECK, i.e. back story of Trachimbrod and Litvinoff's "The History of Love." Even the younger brothers of Alex and Alma are similar, possessing unusual cognomens, i.e. Little Igor and Bird.

There are surely more similarities, but I'm tired of addressing them all. These I think shall suffice. More to the point, does it matter that a husband and wife each wrote a novel that is similar to the other's? No, or at least it's easy to argue it doesn't matter at all, especially if the quality of the writing is good and the story is told effectively. Bottom line? Safran Foer's novel didn't do it for me. This, and so much of what all I write about here, is largely opinion based. In fact, we could get into the real abstraction of certainty (which I've been avidly reading Ludwig Wittgenstein's "On Certainty"), and how even the so-called empirical sciences could, if parsed by their semantical meaning, could be rendered products of subjectivity just the same as the gray area of literary inference, but that might get impossibly beside the point and also possibly drive me insane. Instead, I'll acknowledge precisely how much my own opinion has led me to feel that "Everything is Illuminated" simply does not work, isn't to my tastes. Parts of it were amusing, to Safran Foer's credit. And I refuse to say he's untalented. He is. I just think his talent is misused here.

Also, I really didn't like "Here We Aren't, So Quickly" -- which this story struck me as the kind of pretentious work one will churn out in a highly pretentious MFA creative writing program, if you want to know.

As for thoughts lingering about the "Top 20 Under 40": I fully intend to read Chris Adrian's "Gob's Grief." I have it in my possession and it seems like a very interesting first time attempt, which I might then juxtapose with "Everything is Illuminated." See how these narratives might then be tied together, alle zusammen richtig ist!

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