There are quite a few novels that you either love or hate. Not so many that you can simultaneously both love AND hate. To admire there’s the high tide imaginative vitality of the writing; to irritate the relentless contrived cutesy-cutesy tugging at the heartstrings.
EL&IC purports to be a novel about big bangs – 9/11, Hiroshima and Dresden – but you might say this novel is more about the consequences of over indulging feeling. There’s Oskar who misses his dad who dies on 9/11 and there’s his grandfather who loses the love of his life in the bombing of Dresden and, melodramatically, refuses to speak from that day on. The Oskar narrative just about works; the grandfather narrative is simply annoying in its whimsy and pantomime absurdity. And as such provides no aesthetically invigorating connection between the two horror days of history. In fact Dresden, like Hiroshima, seems a gratuitous service station in the novel. It’s also a novel that has more sympathy for the male than the female. The practical tenacity of Oskar’s mother in the face of grief is given short shrift as is the case with the abandoned grandmother. It’s the males who get the best lines and make things happen in Foer’s world.
Essentially it’s a fairy story. A bit like Benigni’s Life is Beautiful in its attempt to excavate a life affirming beauty from unspeakable horror. Also irritating is that it borrows riffs from Bellow’s Herzog and Grass’s the Tin Drum as well as shoplifting wholesale Amis’ created universe in Time’s Arrow where everything happens backwards.
An entertaining read but not quite great literature. Foer is still very young though.