20 Under 40: A Comprehensive (Subjective) Guide

Jonathan Safran Foer, “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly,” June 14/21:

Jonathan Safran Foer

I’d like to believe I would have hated this “story” just as much without having already had a distaste for Foer, but boy, I hated it. I wouldn’t be so foolish as to assume that everyone did, but I’d bet this is one of the most divisive stories of the series. A friend of mine told me that sh thought it was “brave of him” to “get so experimental.” I’d hesitate to use the word “brave.” Maybe “lazy” would be more apt, because it felt to me like something Foer may have cranked out after a few hasty hours at his laptop.

“Experimental,” however, is correct. The two-page story consists of memories, told by one person, addressing a spouse. It reads like a letter, but also like a gimmick. There are moments (like “They said he looked like them”) from which we can certainly make extrapolations and build something of a history, if not a plot. The couple met as children, grew up together, married, had a son, carried on close relationships with their own parents, aged together, and eventually died. The character is now contemplating everything that happened.

It feels likely that the narrator is speaking from beyond the grave. The story has a number of devastating lines, such as the stunner “We tried spending more time not together,” or, “We were always moving furniture and never making eye contact,” but Foer continually ruins the seriousness with abrupt, silly one-liners like “I am probably ambidextrous.”

By the end, we only have scattered images with which to string together a story. That’s intentional, obviously, and the story is quite a conversation piece, but it may be more likely to frustrate than impress. To be fair, I admit that with the final sentence, Foer finally allows himself some length and cadence, and it is a heartfelt request to the absent spouse that begins, “Be beside me somewhere,” and it is lovely.


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