Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

“The more you love someone, he came to think, the harder it is to tell them. It surprised him that strangers didn't stop each other on the street to say I love you.”

Dear Mr. Foer:

I am in awe of your talent. And envious. I still can't believe this is your debut novel and that you wrote it at the age of 25! Hell, not even some of my favorite authors such as Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene or John Steinbeck (to name a few) were able to burst onto the literary scene in a blaze of glory like you have here with Everything is Illuminated. They each had to work at their craft over a prolonged period of time, constantly fine-tuning their skills, experimenting with different stylistic forms in order to find their authorial voice--but you make it all seem so effortless. You're a literary wunderkind. This novel feels like the work of a mature writer in his prime, not a young man who is just beginning their writing career. What a delectable and enticing read! Completely absorbing, overflowing with creativity, a real tour-de-force. I can't recommend it enough. I'm tempted to stand on street-corners handing out copies to people but that is an expensive enterprise (unless you want to send me several hundred copies? We can discuss my promotional compensation later). In the mean time, I have given this novel away as gifts to a few friends, recommended it as a 'must read' whenever literature comes into the conversation, which unfortunately, is rare. Maybe it is time to find new friends.

I can see how many readers might find your style 'gimmicky' or 'pretentious' but it worked for me. I thought the concept was completely original and nothing short of brilliant by having two distinct narrative voices working simultaneously (am I correct to see the stylistic influence of Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man? The way Alex's language improves progressively from crude at the beginning of the novel to sophisticated by the end is very reminiscent of Stephen Dedalus)--a meta-narrative where you, the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, is written into the story. Many might accuse you of being self-indulgent and rightfully so. However, you somehow manage to pull off this narrative feat most effectively --and might I add, with a slight touch of bravado--without having the story fall apart at the seams or coming across as a pompous show-off. No easy task.

Rarely have I come across a novel that mixes humor and sadness so harmoniously. I found myself laughing uncontrollably one moment and then struck with such profound emotion the next. My only minor quibble is that the magical realism sections felt drawn-out and went a little overboard at times with all of the stylistic flourishes but your writing is such a pleasure to read that it did not bother me too much. Most of my favorite authors are buried six feet under and I don't read a lot of 'contemporary fiction' but you good sir, deserve to be recognized as one of the more unique and accomplished writers of this generation.  

Your newly devoted fan,

~ Jason.

1 comment:

  1. This book quite simply blew me away. I've heard so much about it from so many people. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of reading EII. It's not for everyone, but it's for anyone who cares about the power of fiction. You can read reviews, amazon comments, interviews with the author, but, even with all this, the book will surprise you in the best way. I laughed and cried and felt a thousand and one other things as I read. I can't say I've ever felt the power of a voice like JSF's. He is unique. I can't recommend this book and author enough. Enjoy!