Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Whose Lament?

If you've read "My Name is Asher Lev" by the profound Chaim Potok, then likely if you picked up "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer you'd recognize the main character -- a little boy who has lost his father in the 9/11 attacks in New York.

I was reading this in Argo Tea & Coffee last night while waiting to grab dinner with the boyfriend when I stopped, shocked at the absolute identical nature of Asher Lev and Oskar Schell. The former is a budding artist, the latter a budding inventor. Their imaginations are vivid and complex, almost adult-like in nature. Their thought process and often the way they speak are fast, with question after question coming at the speed of light and spanning many different topics. The two boys are twins, separated at the spine.

It's as if -- like Asher Lev with the rebbe's face in the chumash -- Safran Foer created an entire character and when he finally came to, it was the face of Asher Lev.

Moments like this are sort of like reading errors in texts (and boy oh boy were there many, many more in the fall holidays book I was reading; talk about nauseatingly disappointing). With errors it shows a lack of concern for quality, for perfection. When it comes to character development ... yes, it's easy to say it's all been done before, but you can create a variation on a theme without rebuilding the theme brick for brick. That's what Oskar Schell is in my mind now. I'll admit that Safran Foer's second effort was not nearly as masterful as his first, but that's the plight of being a new author -- finding that higher plane.

But as I near the end of "My Name is Asher Lev," I find myself more in love with Potok. I'd like to read his follow-up to "The Chosen," but at the same time know that it is probably a crowd-pleasing work (success begets success, no?). It seems that sequels often are.

Then again, I crave Shalom Auslander's "Foreskin's Lament," if for its tagline alone: "I believe in God. It's been a real problem for me." Watch this video, it's an absolutely brilliant introduction to what surely will be an insightful work.