Novelist and divorcée Jonathan Safran Foer and Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman published excerpts of their email correspondence in The New York Times’s T Magazine Thursday. There’s a wink in this premise: One of the most irresistible morsels of media gossip of the last few years is the story that Jonathan Safran Foer hit the skids with his ex-wife, novelist Nicole Krauss, because he fell in love with Natalie Portman via email, and that Portman neither returned his affection nor left her husband, Paris Opera Ballet director of dance Benjamin Millepied.
They’re both promoting respective projects (Portman, her directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness; Foer, his insatiable lust for Natalie Portman), so perhaps this is the most attention-grabbing tactic that the Foer and Portman publicity cabals could drum up. If so — 100 percent correct, my attention is grabbed. Terrific gimmick! Please have all famous people rumored to be in wildly asymmetrical emotional affairs together do this!
My only complaint: Why the weird insistence that their old emails were deleted?
In the introduction to the email exchange, The New York Times insists that Foer and Portman are starting their correspondence from scratch because their “epistolary archive mysteriously disappeared.” This is Foer’s explanation: “Being the world’s last Hotmail user finally caught up with me a few months ago, and I lost virtually all of the correspondence I’d saved since getting the only email address I’ve ever had.”
Many Hotmail users did complain about losing emails when Microsoft migrated Hotmail to Outlook (though these complaints came years, not months, ago). So it’s believable that Foer could’ve had a similar experience and not known how to retrieve them. Fine. But his claim falls apart towards the end of their new email exchange, when Foer writes this:
“Every now and then the broken-down time machine that is Hotmail can cough itself back to life. I didn’t bother mentioning it, because it felt so fruitless, but while corresponding with you, I have also been corresponding with what I think is a robot at Hotmail. And while most everything that was lost will remain lost, I was able to dig up a few things, including the email that began our long friendship, from all the way back in 2002.”
And then there’s Portman’s supposedly erased email from 2002, back from the dead and appearing in a legacy media outlet. What the fuck?
So Foer was talking to a chatbot of some kind that helped him recover his first email from Portman, but not more recent ones? And he sent the email to Portman? Why didn’t Portman have the email exchange in her “sent” folder? She makes no mention of her emails mysteriously vanishing into a Microsoft-owned black hole.
Had Portman been casually deleting all of Foer’s emails this whole time, but felt awkward admitting that at this point? Especially since he cared deeply about keeping a record of their exchanges, enough to engage a chatbot and customer support. Then, upon successfully retrieving the much-coveted, almost-lost email she’d written, he’d cared enough to both send it back to her and publish it in The New York Times — sure, it’s just T Magazine, but still, the Times? It was almost as if he was still in love, still enraptured and romantic, too fixated for logic, too beguiled to think about their children and their spouses and ex-spouses and professional reputations and money and fame and responsibility or anything but her face, her lips, her hair. Yes, it would be awkward for Natalie to admit she had hit “delete” after every email.
Foer has a long history of employing magical-realist flourishes in his writing, so perhaps this was just another twee gesture. I guess they had to concoct the “whoops, all our emails went away!” premise as a cover for the obvious reality that they were pandering to literary gossips, but it somehow only made Foer look more horny. Foer might hate eating animals, but he’s fine with feeding us bullshit.