That said, it's sometimes hard to stick to principle.
Much has been made of the flipbook with which Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ends, a series of pictures of a silhouette falling from the towers, rearranged so that as one turns or flips the pages, the figure ascends instead of falling. Some advice to our young author: Don't walk the streets naked and complain that no one takes you seriously, and certainly don't write a book culminating with a flipbook and then complain that your words aren't taken seriously.
So far, this is good snark. But Siegel goes a little over the deep end when he brings up the flip-book a second time:
And then the flipbook, which, like the other illustrations, serves no purpose but to remind us that this is an important book, and what a daring young author this Foer is, offering us authenticity, a favorite word of his. In an interview, he explained that "Jay-Z samples from Annie—one of the least likely combinations imaginable—and it changes music. What if novelists were as willing to borrow?" Yes. Jiggaman and "Hard Knock Life" are surely what the novel needs.
Foer is indeed a sampler, throwing in Sebald (the illustrations and Dresden), Borges (the grandparents divide their apartment into something and nothing), Calvino (a tale about the sixth borough that floated off, ripped off wholesale from Cosmicomics), Auster (in the whole city-of-symbols shtick), Night of the Hunter (the grandfather has Yes and No tattooed on his hands) and damn near every other author, technique, reference and symbol he can lay his hands on, as though referencing were the same as meaning.
And with the same easy spirit in which he pillages other authors' techniques, stripping them of their context and using them merely for show, he snatches 9/11 to invest his conceit with gravitas, thus crossing the line that separates the risible from the villainous. The book's themes—the sense of connection we all feel when the coffee or acid hits and everything is illuminated, the brain-gurble and twitch and self-pity we all know better than to write about—have nothing to do with the attack on the towers, or with Dresden or Hiroshima, which Foer tosses in just to make sure we understand what a big and important book we're dealing with.
The first paragraph is ok. But the second paragraph above is show-offy, and the third is basically nonsense. Writers are allowed to use tragic events as material for their imaginations. 9/11 is not off limits. Deal with it.
And once Siegel starts to go wrong, he really goes wrong. Near the end of the review is the following bit of bareknuckled crap:
All of this brings to mind the infamous post-9/11 issue of The New Yorker, in which author after author reduced the attack to the horizon of their writerliness, epitomized by Adam Gopnick's comparing the smell to smoked mozzarella. I was at Ground Zero, so didn't hear about the issue for weeks or read it for months (or smell mozzarella at all), but I understood both why such words were vile and how writers curled into what they know. They felt that the world had become too large and ill-contained to do anything else.
Oh, Harry Siegel, come on. So you were at Ground Zero; are you going to play that card every time a liberal opens his mouth? Adam Gopnik is harmless, and the bit about smoked mozzarella is just a line, an idea -- one person's response to a catastrophe. Save the venom for the real bad guys.