Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
August 4, 2010 § 2 Comments
The only reason I know about Jonathan Safran Foer is because I saw Everything is Illuminated with a friend at college last semester. It’s a shame that I hadn’t heard of Foer before. Although I’ve yet to read Everything is Illuminated the movie sold me on Foer’s creative characters and unique style. If it came through in a movie, it screams in your ear in his writing.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a novel, but it’s also so much more. Foer seems to sneer at typical literary conventions and introduces a myriad of clever, hyperactive ways to move the story along. There are illustrations, and a series of pages marked by a red pen to show the mistakes in a letter sent to one of the characters. There is color and life. Foer switches narrators every chapter, just to keep things interesting. The interesting thing about this is that it all feels so necessary as the characters try to make sense of what is happening in their world.
The novel takes place after and deals specifically with September 11th so in a way it’s not just the characters in the story trying to make sense of life, but all of us Americans. Foer’s writing plumbs the depths of a young boy Oskar, whose father died in the attacks, as he tries to cope with his father’s death. Even though I don’t often think about 9-11, Oskar’s story brought it all back to me. On two separate occasions I was near tears, which for me are almost never elicited by the written word. The story is so personal, yet so universal to all of us who witnessed those attacks.
Foer does an excellent job of bringing the memories back, but he doesn’t sugarcoat them or romanticize them. They are real things that carry real weight, not only for the characters in his story but for all of us. He deals with the real questions of life and death here. But more impressively, he does it with such tenderness that they don’t seem forced upon the story in some haphazard way of drawing a moral from his fable.
For a story about death it’s bursting full of life, from Oskar’s unrelenting quest to find the lock to the key he found in his father’s closet to the old man he befriends whose bed has so many nails in it that it has become a magnet. I can’t say much more about this book. It has everything you could want in a story without simplifying the hard questions. At the end, we still might not be better equipped to die, but we are better equipped to live.