Thursday, August 25, 2005
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
So last night (well, more like early this morning) I finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I have to say that I absolutely loved the book. It was hands-down one of the saddest, if not the saddest, book I have ever read. I was actually crying by the end of the book if you can believe that. I know you're probably thinking But Michael, you're a raging ball of testosterone; you don't cry. I shit you not, I cried.
The novel follows the quest of a nine-year-old boy by the name of Oskar who discovers a key hidden inside a vase inside his late father's closet. His father was one of the thousands killed in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Anyway, the boy, who was very close to his father decided that finding the lock that the key belongs to would keep the memory of his father alive just a little while longer. The key was inside an envelope with the word "Black" on it inside the vase and so Oskar decides that it must somehow be linked to a person with the last name Black. The quest, then, becomes to meet every person in the New York City phone book with the last name Black to see if they know the origins of the key and if they can offer any insight into the character of Thomas Schell, Oskar's father.
I'll leave the synopsis at that because I really don't want to give away the whole book. What I have given you is a premise. I will say that what absolutely killed me emotionally reading this book was how absolutely charming the character of Oskar is and his little mannerisms which make him a very dynamic and sympathetic hero. For example, when he does something wrong he punishes himself by giving himself bruises. He writes letters to renowned intellectuals for their guidance and to see if they are in need of protoges. The relationship that Oskar have with his mother is so heart-wrenching to read about at times because there appears to be this certain dichotomy between how the son copes with the loss of his father and how the wife copes with the loss of her husband, which makes for some rather tense arguments that are kind of uncomfortable to read.
Foer really does well as a writer here. I would have to say that this book really makes use of some postmodern techniques. Now I know that the term "postmodern" makes some people squeamish because it's usually synonymous with "pretentious" or "hard to understand," but Foer takes safe chances. He has a couple of pages of nothing but numbers as one character tries to tell his life story by punching it into a telephone keypad, and other pages were text is layered time and time again until it is almost completely blackened. What I like most is how he isn't afraid to change his P.O.V. in the book, sometimes adopting the voice of Oskar's grandmother, and sometimes adopting that of his grandfather. To readers who like their books very linear and straightforward, concepts like these sound like too much hassle to wrap one's head around, but Foer really makes it work in an easy-to-understand manner.
Now that the whole experience of reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is done I am left actually missing reading it. It's the kind of book that when it's done you don't want it to be over. I guess that's a true testament to how endearing Oskar Schell is as a character and to Jonathan Safran Foer's ability to write. I highly recommend this book to everybody.