HERE I AM by Jonathan Safran Foer (Hamish Hamilton, 2016)
Wilkie Collins once asserted that “the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story.”
Tell that to the post-modernists!
Jonathan Safran Foer says that “I have yet to write a novel from a plan” and says of his third major fictional work that “there wasn’t any one ‘idea’ but a number of disparate starting points”.
Unfortunately it shows!
The joins of this ‘cut and paste’ opus are all to evident and simply do not gel together.
The novel is called ‘Here I Am’ but would be more accurately entitled ‘Who Am I?’
Self doubt and the existential torment are focused primarily on the doubts of Jacob’s Jewish identity.
Foer tries to draw a parallel between a collapsing marriage and a massive earthquake in Israel as though this family saga and global tragedy were somehow intertwined.
The author’s cynical, but accurate, assessment of long-term relationships is that they are “based on willful blindness and forgetting” and suggests that this also applies to how we view the past.
There’s a threat of a world war until he loses interest in this idea and returns to the domestic crisis. An ailing dog thereafter becomes more important than the state of the nation!
It would be a stronger work if the main character generated more sympathy but Jacob is a slippery customer. His marriage lies in tatters when his wife discovers sextexts on his mobile phone. These are so explicit that they seem to prove he is having an affair. But the details of this other woman remain irritatingly sketchy. Did he or didn’t he fuck her?
Leaving the reader guessing whether the dirty talk was a precursor to dirty deeds leaves a gaping plot hole that is never filled. The couple is drifting apart anyway because they are bored with each other so why even introduce this mystery.
Foer’s strength lies in the dialogues and enough of these have a fizz and fire to make the book worth reading but it saddens me to say that this is easily his weakest novel to date.