Books: The Master of Illumination

Jonathan Safran Foer takes on one of America's darkest days

Jonathan Safran Foer hasn't always been like this. "I was a flamboyant child," he says. "I used to wear, like, very crazy outfits all the time--bow ties, big blazers, glittery stuff. I was a little mini-Liberace." Not anymore. Foer is so buttoned-down and serious he makes Philip Roth look like Andre 3000.

It's not that Foer--it's one syllable, "like the number four"--isn't funny and charming, because he is. But there's something deeply, essentially earnest about him. Gone are the bow ties: he dresses to disappear, in a gray sweater and blue jeans. He is neither hip nor cool. Skinny and delicately...

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