Wednesday, May 04, 2005

JSF and JL at PS 107

yesterday I saw Jonathan Safran Foer and Jhumpa Lahiri, both of whom live in my neighborhood, give a reading as PS 107. JSF read the beginning of his new novel, and Jhumpa read from a work-in-progress short story.
It's funny how different they are. JS has this really subjective 1st person voice, while Jhumpa may see inside her charcter's head, but looking in (where JSF is largely looking out). JSF is really poppy, the way a an artful pop song is easily accessible even to those who aren't used to reading.
I think that's why he's so easy for everyone to like, like a Hollywood movie (when they used to be good). Those Hollywood movies are about being subjectively inside the head of a character, identifying totally with them. that's what he does so well. Jhumpa (and most other writers of any consequence) are like a Hou Hsiao-hsien film, watching in telling long takes and learning about the naunces of characters. This is great, too, but much harder for the average person to like. The reader then needs to bridge the gap between the person they're looking in on and themselves. JS just starts talking and expects you to be the character.

Their presences were very different as well. JS comes across like goofy, funny just-post-college kid he is. He has the hair and outfit and mannerisms of the overarticulate class clown who ended up at Princeton and decided to write books. He played to his audience for laughs even in mid-sentence.
Jhumpa was more serious, and seemed to me to have a better grasp of the craft of writing. Of course, she had to work a bit more to get there, and still seems to prize that serious over silliness. Not as crowd-pleasing, perhaps, but maybe a little deeper. I'll admit that Foer gets to me, but the way Spielberg gets to me - with the easy manipulations. Both have the ability to go deeper (say, the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan), but have too strong a desire to be liked. and I dislike that because I'm constantly fighting that in myself.

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