Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close can definitely be considered one of the odder books I have read in my twenty-some years. Even at this point, I’m not quite sure how to feel about it, so I think I’ll just kinda call it as I see it. Hopefully you still have some confidence left in me.
Written by fellow twenty-something-year-old, Jonathan Safran Foer, EL&IC is a tale of Oskar Schell who two years previous, lost his best friend in the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately, his best friend was also his dad. Oskar is a quirky, naïve, and intelligent nine year old boy who I watched cope with the loss of his father with a little bit of heartache and a little bit of ‘what the heck is happening here?’ The story follows his narrative, with interlacing chapters of letters (rife with ‘what the heck is happening here?’) written by his paternal grandparents, telling of their own stories of having lived through their own terrors during WWII, and their life and methods of coping with their distress. While looking at some of his fathers’ things, Oskar finds a hidden key in an envelope labeled ‘Black’, and subsequently begins an entertaining search of New York for this key’s lock.
Foer’s story is told very creatively with numerous textual oddities and visuals which gave me (and other readers, I presume) a unique perspective and worked to pique my interest. Numerous critics have lambasted him for this technique, but I feel more pleased to see individual flavor than novels with all their toes in line. In an interview, Foer says he hopes that the “reader feels [the novel] loudly and close,” and I think he managed, in a way, for this to occur with me.
In an anonymous comment online, a fan wrote that “Oskar is on an odyssey of encounters that test and shape him and ultimately show him how to be in this suddenly terrifying world, how to embrace life and love in spite of overwhelming fear and grief.” I found this line extremely accurate, and this particular storyline in the book very moving. Everybody feels lost in life at one time or another most likely, and it felt nice to see Oskar finally figure his out.
Somewhere before the middle of the book I had these little alarms going off in my head that I knew could only mean one thing: this book is probably really good, but the symbolism and literary techniques used are going way over my head. Not my favorite feeling. I will admit the book got better near the end as things became less muddled, but will not admit to skipping over a few parts of the book to get to the ‘interesting bits.’ Despite this I still found it an enjoyable, if odd read, and believe that this story is one worthy of reading (making me wonder if the movie is worth watching?), if not for the interesting techniques Foer employs to tell his story, then for an endearing character who manages to find acceptance.