Even if you look at him as just a writer, Jonathan Safran Foer is a genius. But it’s when you add the images he includes in his work, his experimentation with what you can do with the written word, and his political commentary, that he becomes a writer of our generation. His two novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close focus on protagonists going out in their wider world, be it Ukrainian Shtetls or post-9/11 New York City, to find out liberating information of their deceased relatives. What first drew me to him, though, was his infallible ability to illustrate characters through their speech, like Alexander Perchov from Everything is Illuminated, who refers to himself as “very potent and generative” and is “always elsewhere with friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother.” And with every character as three-dimensional as the last, I find it hard to put his work down long enough to go to the bathroom.
And then there’s the artwork—oh, the artwork! The images he includes link to the text in such a way—extracts from a child image collection, a piece of scrap paper, or a jumble of words to show a frustrated character—that they not only immerse readers further into the story by giving us an insight into what his characters see, what fascinates them, dipping your toes further into their world. You could live without the illustrations, to eliminate any ideas of children’s book auras, but the images are complex enough to get readers thinking, and point to details that the text would not otherwise have led to, making them both interesting and useful.
If nothing else, you cannot scoff at what he’s achieved thus far. After being recognized by one of his college professors, Joyce Carol Oates, as having incredible talent, he went on to publish his first novel in 2002, which was adapted to film in 2005. His second novel, published in 2006, is already set to be released on film in 2012, and he’s gaining recognition in the animal rights world through the publication of his most recent book-length work, Eating Animals, in a way that’s causing animal interest group activity to skyrocket.
Above all, his work challenges you. It challenges you to connect pictures to child prodigies, to materialize a Ukrainian college student through his rough speech, and to find the humanity in a grandmother’s chicken and carrot recipe. He may not be for everyone, but maybe if you check out his work, I think you’ll grow to find his work worthwhile.