Issue 12: Vhcle Books: Everything is Illuminated
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Then there’s the tragic tale itself, written by Jonathan. These chapters are about Jonathan’s ancestors from the 1790s onward. They are in a completely different style, starting off in over the top post-modernism and eventually diving into utter nonsense. I guarantee you a majority of the people that put this book down without finishing it did so after reading one of these chapters. They’re awash in metaphor and double meaning and frame the beginning and end of the book with some masterful symmetry. They’re so clever in fact, that it feels like the author is smashing them into my face and screaming “Look at how clever I am!” You’re good at writing, Foer, we get it. But when the fantastical post-modernist voice gets so into what it’s doing that well over a page are filled with nothing but “We are writing…We are writing…” repeated over and over again, it smacks of self-indulgence.
I think I even get the overall message, which is rare for me. By the end of the book Alex becomes the main character and we are left wondering exactly what writing as an art should accomplish, and how damaging to the Jewish identity it is for them to hang on, tooth and nail, to this traumatic memory of the Holocaust. But a full third of this book is exactly that: a self-indulgent reliving of this trauma. The other two thirds of Everything is Illuinated is a great read. But these tasty morsels are peppered with what I can only describe as literary masturbation. And no one wants that in their food. Or book. And the worst part is I can’t even tell if Foer did this on purpose to prove Alex’s point.

Read other articles/reviews by Myles

A 24 year-old recent graduate from CU Boulder in English literature, Myles has moved back to the wine country to start a wine label with two childhood friends. He manages the estate vineyard and in his spare time reads far too much and writes far too little.  
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Everything is Illuminated
Jonathan Safran Foer
Reviewed by Myles Lawrence-Briggs
Vhcle Books, Issue 13
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Jonathan Safran Foer is a very talented writer. In Everything is Illuminated, he switches between three distinct writing styles: he ranges from realism, to epistolary, and finally to extreme post-modernist metafiction and fabulism. He knows what makes a good story, and writes layers of metaphor and double-meaning into his book. Too bad it wasn’t any good. After reading Everything is Illuminated I’m left feeling exhausted and confused; like I’ve just been a willing participant in my own carjacking and it’s just now donning on me as I watch my car drive into the sunset on a New Mexico desert highway.
There are parts of this book I really like. Parts of it are about a young Jewish man, Jonathan, and his journey with his Ukrainian tour guide, Alex, to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis in World War Two. These chapters are light and funny while being anchored in the tragedy of the Holocaust. The characters are relatable and I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion.
Other parts of the book are letters from Alex to Jonathan after Jonathan has returned to America to write about his experience and his Jewish ancestors. These letters show Alex’s growth and the change in their relationship as Alex increasingly disapproves of the tragic tale that Jonathan is writing. He argues that fiction should be better than reality, not worse. These chapters culminate with Alex’s coming of age and by the end will be both extremely gratifying and heartbreaking.