Here I Am is a portrait of modern American family life in crisis. Jonathan Safran Foer, once called one of the most overrated contemporary American Authors, introduces us to the Bloch family. Foer paints the masks of social convention his characters wear and then gives us a front row seat as they crumble and burst into flame. Set against the backdrop of bigger drama and the overwhelming burden of being a Jewish man in 2016, a signature move of Foer’s, the story is really that of a family falling apart, or rather realizing they fell apart a long time ago. The characters’ thoughts are often very identifiable, like when eldest child Sam describes his feelings about trying to fit himself into the world, but sometimes can be a little too on the nose. The dialogue is occasionally witty and often vulgar, though I’m sure Foer would say he meant to do that, to jar the reader from their place of comfort and safety, and show them the ugliness of real life – or something equally pretentious.
Overall, the book is okay. It only occasionally veers into the territory of the Rom-Com, letting the reader feel the awkwardness of a shared joke when you’re supposed to be watching your lives fall apart together. I found it runs a little too close to Rainbow Rowell’s LandLine at times, without looking any better for it. Rowell’s book discusses a lot of similar issues but with a fun plot twist and more importantly it’s 300 pages shorter. Foer’s giant tome clocks in at a very high commitment level of 571 pages, 17 hours if you go the audiobook route, and will only once in a while feel worth it. I wanted to like this more, but it might be too real to be all that interesting.
If you feel like going a little further, I recommend taking Foer’s fiction releases in a slightly eccentric order. Start with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by far Foer’s most accessible work, though, in my opinion, it’s only okay. The stories flow together easily and there’s nothing ‘weird’ about its composition. Follow that up with Everything is Illuminated, a much more difficult read but well worth it. Last, take a look at Tree of Codes, which is more of a work of art than an actual book.