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5/12/2005

All right, Jonathan Safran Foer: It's go-time

Despite the fact that my last attempt to goad a semi-public figure into a fight was an abject failure, due to said semi-public figure being a total pussy, I am going to make another attempt to mete out a brutal, well-deserved ass-whoopin' on yet another pseudo-prodigious jackanapes.

That's right: I'm talking to you, Jonathan Safran Foer. It's go-time, bitch.

Now, you might be asking: Who the fuck is Jonathan Safran Foer? Why do you want to kick his ass? And why does he need three names?

Well, if you're not familiar with this particular snot-nosed little punk, he's a 'writer' with two novels to his name at the ripe-old-age of 26. He is also a pretentious little cunt, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Matt at Code Three is also an enthusiastic Foer-hater (in fact, his recent post on the matter was the inspiration for this present effort to kick the shit out of Foer), and Hannah at The Next Left (whom I found via Matt) calls for "Foer Haters [to] Unite". A recent New York Press review called Foer a "fraud and a hack."

The reason for all this animosity should be clear immediately upon reading a description of Foer's work. From Amazon's summary of his first novel, Everything Is Illuminated:

A young Jewish American--who just happens to be called Jonathan Safran Foer--travels to the Ukraine in the hope of finding the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is aided in his search by Alex Perchov, a naïve Ukrainian translator, Alex's grandfather (also called Alex), and a flatulent mongrel dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. On their journey through Eastern Europe's obliterated landscape they unearth facts about the Nazi atrocities and the extent of Ukrainian complicity that have implications for Perchov as well as Safran Foer.


Cute, huh?--the main character's name is Jonathan Safran Foer, just like the author! Hey JACKASS--Paul Auster already pulled this trick almost twenty years ago, and you're not 1/1000th the writer he is.

Having already tackled the Holocaust, Foer moves on to the attack on the World Trade Center for the background of his newest book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:

Oskar Schell, hero of this brilliant follow-up to Foer's bestselling Everything Is Illuminated, is a nine-year-old amateur inventor, jewelry designer, astrophysicist, tambourine player and pacifist. Like the second-language narrator of Illuminated, Oskar turns his naïvely precocious vocabulary to the understanding of historical tragedy, as he searches New York for the lock that matches a mysterious key left by his father when he was killed in the September 11 attacks, a quest that intertwines with the story of his grandparents, whose lives were blighted by the firebombing of Dresden. Foer embellishes the narrative with evocative graphics, including photographs, colored highlights and passages of illegibly overwritten text, and takes his unique flair for the poetry of miscommunication to occasionally gimmicky lengths, like a two-page soliloquy written entirely in numerical code.


Also, at the end of the novel, there is a flip book of a cartoon character falling off of the top of the WTC. I'm not kidding.

Harry Siegel, who wrote the New York Press article, tears Foer a new one:

It's bad form to call a living writer corrupt and debased, which is why I begged out of a review I'd been assigned of Jonathan Safran Foer's highly touted debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated ... I understand how a young man could write such a book, but not why he would have it published, and certainly not how it could be acclaimed as marking the arrival of a major new talent. (The $500,000 advance, and later nearly $1 million for the movie rights, and another $1 million for the follow-up, may have helped.)

...

Having "read" Foer's latest—if that's what one does to this cut-and-paste assemblage of words, pictures, blank pages and pages where the text runs together and becomes illegible—it's time for bad form.

Foer isn't just a bad author, he's a vile one.

... the book is an Oprah-etic paean to innocence and verbosity as embodied by Foer's latest saintly stand-in (there was a character named Jonathan Safran Foer in Everything Is Illuminated), nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who has a business card, speaks French, walks the city at odd hours by himself, writes letters to Stephen Hawking and other luminaries, knows more facts than any of the adults he speaks with, flirts with women, is a vegan, an atheist and otherwise equal parts unbelievable and unbearable. Foer, I should note, is a Jewish atheist, wrote letters to Susan Sontag when he was nine, and otherwise sounds like he'd make unbearable company, though perhaps not as much as the obnoxiously precocious, overeducated brat Schell. If Foer is beginning to sound like a minor Saul Bellow character (think the masturbating uncle in Mr. Sammler's Planet), he has only himself to blame.


By the way, is little 9-year-old Oskar beginning to remind you of anybody? Just wondering.


The plot is a series of contrivances that free the nine-year-old Schell to walk the city by himself in a shaggy-dog quest for the meaning of a key his father, who died in the towers, left behind. This is mixed in with an epistolary saga involving Oskar's grandparents, a woman who serves as still another Foer stand-in and a man who can't write, but only speak, leaving the reader in a hall of mirrors reflecting nothing but Foers and stock characters who reflect back the wonderful-ness of the author.

Eventually, the Schnells' stories converge into one absurdly convenient superstory, saturated with meaning, from which we learn such lessons as, "You cannot protect yourself from sadness without also protecting yourself from happiness," "'I do not want to hurt you, he said'… 'It hurts me when you do not want to hurt me,' I told him," and "I spent my life learning to feel less."

And those quotes are all from one, not unrepresentative page.

Most of all, we learn the search, not the treasure, is the thing, which readers may recognize from the pages of Robert Fulghum's classic of inspirational mush All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

...

And with the same easy spirit in which he pillages other authors' techniques, stripping them of their context and using them merely for show, he snatches 9/11 to invest his conceit with gravitas, thus crossing the line that separates the risible from the villainous. The book's themes—the sense of connection we all feel when the coffee or acid hits and everything is illuminated, the brain-gurble and twitch and self-pity we all know better than to write about—have nothing to do with the attack on the towers, or with Dresden or Hiroshima, which Foer tosses in just to make sure we understand what a big and important book we're dealing with.

Foer, you represent everything that is wrong with contemporary art and literature. You are the George W. Bush of fiction: if you've earned nothing, you have no discernible ability, and you make a mockery of everything you touch. I guarantee you that your books will be lucky to fetch $0.25 at a fucking garage sale ten years from now.

I am giving you an ultimatum: stop publishing books. Now. You are never to publish another book. If you feel compelled to write this vomit-inducing garbage, do so in the privacy of your own home, though I doubt you would write a single sentence if you didn't think it was going to get your ugly face in the New Yorker. I'm serious: you publish another novel, another short story, an essay, anything, and I will kill you.

You've been warned. If I ever see you, I'm kicking your ass; it's too late for you to avoid that. But if you ever, ever, publish another word, you will not live to see your next glowing review from your fellow pretentious loser frauds at the Village Voice.

You pompous little scrotum-sucker.

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