I stumbled upon Jonathan Safran Foer by accident. See, my family was on vacation and I really, really needed a book. I was desperate enough to go for a—gasp—supernatural teen romance, but instead, was lucky enough to grab Twenty Under Forty, a New Yorker collection of short stories. This book changed my life, in a large part due to Foer’s addition, called “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.” His piece is short, only a few pages long, but it opened up what fiction could be for me. Stuck in the world of YA fiction, usually written in the first or third person with limited character development and plenty of action/romance, here was something revolutionary. Each sentence in the work starts with “You,” “I,” or “We,” and explains life married life through deceptively simple sentences. Strange? Completely. Transfixing? Absolutely. Here’s an excerpt:
You were terrible in emergencies. You were wonderful in “The Cherry Orchard.” I was always never complaining, because confrontation was death to me, and because everything was pretty much always pretty much O.K. with me. You were not able to approach the ocean at night. I didn’t know where my voice was between my phone and yours.
One would assume that as soon as I read that, I would go hunting for anything and everything else by Foer. I didn’t. I don’t know if I was worried that the rest of his work would ruin the perfection of that short story, or maybe I just didn’t want to know. Then, I walked into my English teacher’s classroom, and I spotted Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated. With only a little bit of begging, the book was mine for a week. Again, I was transfixed. It was brilliant, weaving generations of stories across its pages. It’s funny. It’s clever. It made me cry on the bus.
I’m currently reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Thus far, I AM REALLY DISAPPOINTED. I LOVE FOER’S OTHER BOOKS AND THEN HE GOES AND WRITES THIS?!? I know, this may seem unfair, but let me explain. Foer is incredible in the other two works I mentioned. Then, you get Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, expecting the same quality. Instead, there is a nine-year-old boy that would have to be a genius in order to know and say what he does in the book, but there is no mention of his special abilities in the book itself. (The kid is reading A Brief History of Time, but attends school at an average grade level). If this were the only flaw, I could deal with that, I really could, but the rhythm feels “off.” Foer’s usual writing has a pulse, a steady beat that forms a backbone in his writing. This, however, feels forced, as if someone made him write the plot, and all the lines that would normally be poetic or would reveal something “deeper” about life just feel pretentious. The take away: read Everything is Illuminated. Hunt down “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.” Don’t even look at Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s not worth your time.