Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Safran Foer


how do they know?

I’m surprised now and again by young authors (Jonathan Safran Foer) or playwrights (Annie Baker) who seem to be wise beyond their years. I wrote about this when I wrote about Safran Foer’s story “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.”

Today, I read an article in the February 25 issue of the New Yorker about Ms. Baker. (And just now noticed, as I was pasting in the link, that the article is titled “Just Saying.” Weird.)

She is talking about a dramatic transformation from her sternly moralistic self at the age of 23, when she realized “. . .that she, too, would make mistakes and hurt people,” and this “annihilated her.”  The article continues: “It’s this crisis in her understanding the helped impel her to make the emotional teachers in her play–the beacons of moral honor–people who are themselves failing in full-fledged adulthood. ‘The story of their lives might not immediately appear to be exemplary or what the younger character would want,’ she explains. ‘But there’s a kind of transcendence and nobility they embody through having not lived the lives they wanted to.'”

She’s 31.

How does she know this already?


Here We Aren’t, So Quickly, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Just read this while brushing my teeth. It gave me goose bumps. I don’t know why. (July, 2010)

Okay, here I am 2 months later. I’ve been thinking about this story on and off since I first read it; even read it aloud, to mixed reviews, at a dinner party one night last month.

First of all, I think it’s ingenious how he sums up a relationship, life (in 2 pages), parenthood(in 3 sentences [“He suddenly drew, suddenly spoke, suddenly wrote, suddenly reasoned. One night I couldn’t help him with his math. He got married.”]), all in variations of “I was always. . . I was never. . . You were always. . . You were never. . .” sentences.

For instance, the first paragraph: “I was not good at drawing faces. I was just joking most of the time. I was not decisive in changing rooms or anywhere. I was so late because I was looking for flowers. I was just going through a tunnel whenever my mother called. I was not able to make toast without the radio. I was not able to tell if compliments were backhanded. I was not as tired as I said.”

The critics at the dinner party thought that they had never been happy. I thought they, the critics that is, were missing the point. They had been happy, some of the time, and unhappy, some of the time, just like the rest of us. What is most astounding to me is how this author, of the ripe old age of 33, seems to understand what it means to be 40, and 50, and 70; what it means to feel and know what you’re feeling; what it means to know someone, even yourself.

Some excerpts:

You were never willing to think of my habits as charming.

I couldn’t explain the cycles of the moon without pen and paper, or with.

I was almost always at home, but I was not always at home at home.

I was always in need of just one good dress shirt, or just one something that I never had.

You were too injured by things that happened in the distant past for anything to be effortless in the present.

You broke everyone’s heart until you suddenly couldn’t.

I was often not reading the book that I was holding.

They kept producing new things that we didn’t need that we needed. I needed your approval more than anything.

And the world of marriage, and our own self doubts:

I should have forgiven you for all that wasn’t your fault.

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