[update 10/26/2005, 12:43] I have been informed that what’s below makes no sense. I hope to correct that later today, but it might not be until sometime after later today.
I recently finished Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel “Everything is Illuminated” (thereby becoming the last person on Earth, I think, to actually read it all the way through), and I’m working through “How to Be Alone”, a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen.
Besides the odd coincidence that I’ve just read books by two men named Jonathan, and the not-so-odd coincidence that they’re both “hot” writers at the moment, the major point of confluence between the two is the exceptional use of the English language. They are both exceptional writers, technically, and both have the ability to use words to evoke emotion, and image, and action in a way that is clean and clear.
Foer reminds me, as I’m sure he has reminded others, of Dave Eggers, but with a broader linguistic range. They both resort, at times, to trickery — the use of punctuation, pages of elipses or sudden paragraph breaks, in order to make a point. They both insert themselves, or a fictionalized version of themselves, as a character in the story, and write from an autobiographical perspective. And both choose their words with care. Foer, though, because he has a slightly better ear, is able to make other characters more pronounced, and is able to relegate himself to the background. His novel benefits from it (as “You Shall Know Our Velocity” probably would have).
In the case of Franzen’s essays, the modernist play is absent, but Franzen himself is very dramatically present. That said, he doesn’t place himself at the center; he lets the essays revolve around the subject, and the almost journalistic assembly of quotes and analysis that he builds up around it. It is interesting, though, that his quotes tend to be from literary sources, even when he’s speaking of (for example) Alzheimer’s disease. He doesn’t try to be a scientist, or a psychologist, or a doctor; he tries to be a smart guy who’s curious about what happened to his dad, and it works well.
So this is one of those blog posts with no real point, no central theme, nothing that I’m trying to pound into anyone’s head. It’s just what I’ve been thinking about. I rather expect it will be edited a couple of times in the next few days, but comment anyway, if you have anything to add….I’m very curious to know what others thought of these two.