So, my husband (who spends quite a bit of time painting) and I have lots of conversations about the irony involved in the fact that lots of what is considered "art" is really just shock value. We've giggled over the formaldehyded sharks exhibited in tanks as "art"; we've commented on sculptures made with real bones as not necessarily more valid or better than those that were created from clay or wood or some other inert matter.
I couldn't stop thinking about those conversations when reading this book. Yes, Foer is creative and yes, Alex's voice is quite good (funny and honest and sympathetically not-offensive because the cultural differences are so transparent in the writing). BUT the whole novel is just long and boring and not really very enlightening (sorry, I could not bring myself to write illuminating).
I get the Ulysses reference (thank you James Joyce for putting a play inside a novel and making it so absurd and dreamlike that we can call it "art"), especially as a sexual reference for Safran's conquests and Bloom's masturbatory wishes but I found it annoying and unnecessary and hard to read.
I was bothered by the anachronistic stuff. If Foer wants to start his story in 1791, he needs to actually write about 1791 and not give his tiny little obscure Russian village things like welcome mats and ovens and newspapers and novels. THEY DIDN'T HAVE THAT SHIT IN 1791! His characters in 1804 (Kolki and Brod) should also not have conversations about having a meaningful conversation (my understanding is that a Russian peasant in the 1800s would most likely NOT want this from his wife), or argue about TOILET PAPER ROLLS.
Ultimately the book was about love; not that love can save us or necessarily redeem us but that love will conquer us. No matter how we try to insulate or prevent or avoid, love will weasel its way into our lives and force us to make difficult decisions and face dire consequences. Early on Brod has to "satisfy herself with the idea of love--loving the loving of things whose existence she didn't care at all about. Love itself became the object of her love."
I still haven't figured out how Foer made a WWII love story so ridiculously boring, non-compelling, and tough to read; but I did not enjoy this at all.