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Literary Glance: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

June 2, 2017

This was a heckuva way to start a book:

When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish home.

Not that.  That was actually a decent first sentence.

I meant this:

He had lived in an apartment with books touching the ceiling, and rugs thick enough to hide dice; then in a room and a half with dirt floors; on forest floors, under unconcerned stars; under the floorboards of a Christian who, half a world and three-quarters of a century away, would have a tree planted to commemorate his righteousness; in a hole for so many days his knees would never wholly unbend; among Gypsies and partisans and half-decent Poles; in transit, refugee, and displaced person camps; on a boat with a bottle with a boat that an insomniac agnostic had miraculously constructed inside it; on the other side of an ocean he would never wholly cross; above half a dozen grocery stores he killed himself fixing up and selling for small profits; beside a woman who rechecked the locks until she broke them, and died of old age at forty-two without a syllable of praise in her throat but the cells of her murdered mother still dividing in her brain; and finally, for the last quarter century, in a snow-globe quiet Silver Spring split-level: ten pounds of Roman Vishniac bleaching on the coffee table; Enemies, A Love Story demagnetizing in the world’s last functional VCR; egg salad becoming bird flu in a refrigerator mummified with photographs of gorgeous, genius, tumorless great-grandchildren.

I’m not a fan of huge block paragraphs, but I really don’t like long sentences.  Despite this, I kept reading (my wife quit) Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I started to enjoy the story until there was another huge block sentence a few pages later.  It killed the momentum of the scene (I thought).

As far as huge block sentences go, the opening sentence wasn’t horrible.  When… I… reread (past tense)… it… slowly… I noticed a lot of the details that I had missed when I just skimmed it.  But I didn’t reread the second huge block sentence; I was too tired from the first one.  I can handle only one huge block sentence at a time.  I’m still reading Here I Am, but I’m cautiously waiting for the next huge block sentence to slow me down.

There might be reasons for starting a book off with a huge block sentence.  Maybe the character Isaac Bloch had lived an interesting life, but the way to kill an interesting life is to write about it in a huge block paragraph.

*****

What do you think?  Does a huge block sentence help the opening of a book or hurt it?  If you take huge blocks on a case-by-case basis, what do you think of this huge block?  Will you stop reading a book if it has huge block sentences?

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