Tuesday, April 10, 2007

...and Safran Foer does not disappoint.

Wow. I just finished Everything is Illuminated. And I'm speechless.

I had you wrong, Jonathan Safran Foer, all wrong. After how much I loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I should have had more faith. But I confess that for the first 50 pages of this book, I was unimpressed.

In the beginning, I was slow to get into the book. The way Alex as a translator, wrote, was tiring to me, and I was like um.. okay... I know it was supposed to be kind of funny, but I wasn't so into it. Then I got past that chapter, and then past the chapter when they meet "the hero" and then into the fictionalized history... and I was still kind of like, um... okay.. this is all so weird and where is this going. Did not buy into the quirkiness of it at all. Did not buy into the humor or the gimick. In fact, if it weren't such a highly acclaimed novel, and the fact that I made a commitment to the thing, I wouldn't have finished it at all. I started the novel tons of times, pushing it aside for other pursuits for the longest time. I worried it'd just be one of those quirky fun novels that I just never get into.

But, oh, how wrong I was.

The more I read, the more I got used to his style ("style" since so many devices were employed). I even started laughing outloud at some of the stuff Alex wrote. And I started to see the underlying grief and beauty in the novel. How on the surface it was mostly so humorous, but underneath it held this beautiful undercurrent of sadness. And I am so incredibly drawn to sadness and its many renditions.

The way the novel itself rises, develops, is intelligent and thoughtful. The way the humorous passages become less humorous; the way Alex's English improves but becomes more truthful, and thus wounding in its truth; the way everything starts to mix and mingle and wrap itself back on itself again in the fake histories; the way the story becomes more about Alex and his family than about Jonathan's in a way you don't suspect in the beginning.

This is a book I need to read again, just to make sense of things I missed in the beginning or dismissed as unimportant.

Safran's many trysts reminded me of Florentino Ariza's in a way - the way they kept making love to all of this women, indiscriminantly almost, trying to give them something, fill a hole or aching that these women held, but never giving them their full love.

And there are so many, so many passages, moments in this book that struck me, resonated with me, spoke to me. So many, that I can't even start to put them down, so I won't.

When Alex writes his portion about what his Grandfather reveals. Oh man. The tidal wave that he unleashes there is so effective, I found myself in tears. What a difficult decision. Choosing the lesser of two evils. Does it make a person wrong for choosing an evil even if it is the lesser of two evils? Isn't it just wrong that war makes a person choose what a person should never have to choose? Is it the person who is evil or the war that is evil? Loss and grief are one terrible thing, but unforgivable guilts - good people being forced to do bad things - perhaps that is even worse still. We are all trying to be good. Trying to do the best we can.

By the end, I relished the gimmick. I didn't like it at all in the beginning, but I found it clever by the end. Still feel it's a gimmick, but it works. It all works. It's so off-the-wall, but I bought into it, savored every word he had. Maybe because sometimes I want to be able to write this way too, pull off something like this too. Do little crazy things here and there (because I have all sorts of strange notions and dreams and letters and soliloquies and monologues and POV switches and streams of consciousness that always feel authentic to me that I would love to throw into a novel... thus, learning all the rules before I break the rules. I want to perfect traditional form before I go and wreck it all, so no one can accuse me of not knowing the rules). So in the end, I fell for it, even when maybe it wasn't always necessary, I always felt like he did it not for the sake of being different, but because he's quirky like that, and it felt right to him instinctively.

I am hugely impressed. This book totally won me over in the end, and I recant every doubt I had. Jonathan Safran Foer did not disappoint. I am just sad because, at the age of what - how old was he when this was published? 24? - he wrote an amazingly intelligent, raw, honest, beautiful book, and I wonder if I have it in me to do the same. I read his words, and I think, if I could do for others what he just did for me.

Highly recommended.

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