Saturday by Ian McEwan; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Writing a novel about catastrophic events that are still inescapably present in our collective imagination makes strenuous demands—demands that have hindered or defeated even writers of great intelligence and ability. But in the case of 9/11, and in spite of the dangers, American and European novelists have found the challenge irresistible. Heidi Julavits opened the floodgates last year with The Effect of Living Backwards. Joyce Carol Oates contributed a short story, “The Mutants,” included in her latest collection, I Am No One You Know. Frederic Beigbeder’s French bestseller Windows on the World appeared in March in English; Nick McDonell’s The Third Brother will be out in September. And that is only a small sampling.
Even in this decidedly mixed company, Ian McEwan and Jonathan Safran Foer make the strangest of bedfellows. McEwan is British; Foer, American. McEwan is the author of a series of intelligent, highly regarded novels, most recently Amsterdam (1998) and Atonement (2001); Foer made his debut in 2002 with the bestseller Everything Is Illuminated. Formally McEwan is a traditionalist, and an unapologetic realist, as deeply interested in the voluminous physical data of life as he is in its large, stony questions. Foer is an experimenter and a comic surrealist, playful and endlessly loquacious.
About the Author
Sam Munson, who reviewed Elizabeth Bishop’s Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box in May 2006, is online editor of COMMENTARY.