Even if Jonthan Safran Foer had not intended to write the most polarizing novel of 2016, Here I Am, accomplishes this task marvelously. It hardly bears repeating that Foer is among the most talented of contemporary wordsmiths, and yet his gift with written language is easily lost in his form. Some readers love his trickily whimsical Everything is Illuminated while others prefer the solidity of his non-fiction. Here I Am falls somewhere in the middle, which is either thrilling or disappointing, depending on which Foer calls to you, and how far you can get in the book.
The initial impression is awe. The book opens with Foer at his best, popping with dialogue that it sharp, witty, and fun. Readers are swept away with this quick moving tide, but only the strongest of swimmers are likely to keep up.
Undeniably affecting, this is one of the few books I have ever thrown across the room in frustration. The dialogue becomes distracting and the book echoes with characters and themes of angsty, nebbishy Jewish men. Philip Roth and Woody Allen did it first and did it better. Yet there are flashes of brilliance in the plot that had me retrieving the book from the floor and plunging back in.
At well over 500 pages, Here I Am often feels to be several hundreds of pages too long. Readers who muscle through to the end are fairly rewarded by seeing some of what had seemed to be useless drivel being elevated to its proper place of lost in the action critical detail. This is perhaps the novel’s greatest missed opportunity. Foer is an incisive author, but his pen was blunted by overuse. Had Here I Am been constructed as a collection of short stories, it would have been stunning.
Here I Am is a book that deserves to be evaluated by the individual reader. Go ahead and try it. Love it or hate it, you will probably not forget it.