Saturday, September 10, 2016

Still Life with Robin: Here I Am (in Cleveland Park)

Here I Am by Jonathan Safan Foer
by Peggy Robin

Have you heard of the hot new literary novel of the fall? It’s Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest, “Here I Am” []. I’m on page 116 out of 571. I don’t normally plug novels in this weekly slice-of-neighborhood-life column but I’m making an exception for this one. Why? Because it’s set in Cleveland Park! Though I’m not even a quarter of the way into the book, its central characters, a family of five, have so far either visited or referenced: Vace’s; the Zoo; Adas Israel, Georgetown Day, Whole Foods, a gift shop with interesting hand-made items such as animal horn salad tongs (am I wrong in assuming it’s Wake Up Little Suzie?), Starbucks, and (after a short drive north up the avenue) Child’s Play. Their home is on Newark Street, clearly closer to Connecticut than Wisconsin.

Since I’m still more or less at the beginning, I can’t yet discern the meaning I’m supposed to derive from the mention of all these specific landmarks and locations. It could be that the author wants me to understand that these characters live in a precious little cocoon, which puts within their easy grasp an astonishing array of over-produced consumer goods, and therefore the reader may regard them as over-privileged and under-prepared to deal with the often difficult things that matter most – OR – maybe the reader is just meant to accept all this detail of neighborhood life as a simple, straightforward I-am-a-camera recording of the characters’ environment. In which case, I suppose, the reader is expected to supply his or her own snark.

Determining which is the case will almost certainly require further reading and/or critical thinking about what I’ve read. The novel from its opening sentence (foretelling the destruction of Israel and the death of an old man) promises a lot to chew on. At 571 pages, it had better!


Still Life with Robin is posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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