In Here I Am, his new novel, Jonathan Safran Foer chronicles the unhappy and dissolving marriage of Jacob and Julia Bloch, two highly educated, upper-middle-class American Jews. In addition to finding the novel filled with “joyless prose about joyless people,” Alexander Nazaryan deems Foer’s attempt to write a profound work of American Jewish literature simultaneously kitschy and pretentious:
Because Here I Am concerns Jews and sex, comparisons with Philip Roth are inevitable. They are also misguided, in good part because Foer is less than half of Roth’s age and couldn’t possibly have the same preoccupations. Yet he tries, as if the responsibility of being a Jewish American novelist required of him protracted shows of thematic fealty to his miglior fabbro. For Roth, Judaism was substratum, a world to which he always returned but was never afraid to leave. . . . For Foer, it is a carapace into which he retreats whenever the fundamental business of writing fiction true to life surpasses his abilities of observation. . . . If kitsch has a “fairy-tale glow,” as Theodor Adorno once said, then Here I Am is positively radiant. . . .
About halfway through the novel, Foer swaps the plight of the Blochs for that of Israel. Israeli cousins come to visit Jacob; as they arrive in Washington, an earthquake rocks the Middle East, potentially leaving Israel weakened relative to its Arab neighbors. Passages about sexting are replaced by passages about the Palestinian issue. Call me prurient, but I preferred the sexting, especially since Foer’s depiction of Israelis seem as complex as that of You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, that little-remembered comedy in which Adam Sandler plays an Israeli soldier living as a hairdresser in Manhattan. Say what you will, at least Sandler tried for laughs. I haven’t a clue what Foer was trying for.