It’s no secret that we live in a world where original ideas have become scarce. Musicians sample older songs, writers retell old fairy tales, and movies recreate books with their own creative liberties. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was made into a movie in this way, and the original book became all the more popular as a result. But for those of you who are interested in expanding into his other books, I highly recommend Tree of Codes.
Because this one is a work of art, and not just in the way we usually consider books to be (although it very much is art in a literary sense, too). This one is also a visual and tactile masterpiece, a whole new take on yet another form of flattering mimicry: fanfiction.
Now hold on, don’t write it off as just another Fifty Shades of Grey yet. “Fanfiction” is a loose term here, and Foer does a fantastic job of turning the lemon-riddled, often poorly-written genre on its head.
The book tells the story of a man’s parents from his point of view, but not through Foer’s own writing. Instead, Foer took the manuscript of Polish writer Bruno Schulz’s “Street of Crocodiles” and, page by page, literally carved a new story out of it by cutting away sections and leaving only the words that suited the story’s needs. Even the title of the work comes from the original manuscript’s title. The result: an engrossing and interactive reading experience that completely changes the way we look at literature.
It would be easy to take a manuscript and switch the words around to tell a new story, adding in our own ideas about characters where we see fit. That’s more or less what our typical concept of fanfiction is. But to literally take it page by page and only cut out the words you don’t need? That takes a whole new level of skill.
The idea that there is a story within a story just waiting to be told… it’s fascinating. How many other stories can be found in Street of Crocodiles? In other popular novels? Maybe Harry Potter is really an evil robot from the future come to destroy Hogwarts when you pick apart The Prisoner of Azkaban. Maybe The Hunger Games conceals a retelling of Sleeping Beauty’s nightmares before her prince swoops by. Maybe there are already fanfictions out there along these lines, but I honestly don’t want to know.
In all seriousness, though, it’s hard not to geek out over something like this. Combining two forms of art to create a hybrid so unique… what’s not to love about that?