Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel

Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer emerged as one of the most original writers of his generation with his best-selling debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated. Now, with humor, tenderness, and awe, he confronts the traumas of our recent history.Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.


Reviewed: 2016-06-24
I finished this book this morning, determined to complete it before I did anything else today. I wanted it to just be over. I read the last 41 pages & then looked at the additional 15 unnumbered pages of pictures at the end, and now I sit here rather annoyed. I don't know how to communicate my disappointed sighs via text.

I really wanted to love this book. It was given to me by a friend who loved it - someone whose opinion I trust. I didn't get around to reading it for a long time though, and now that I have, it is my sad duty to report that I didn't like it at all. This should have been a moving story about grief, a little boy searching to find out why his father died, and learning to let him go. But it wasn't anything. There was no plot, no point, and I just didn't get it. There was exactly three sections of this book that made me feel something other than confusion and frustration. These three sections probably add up to about 10 pages, all together. And then one of them was a lie, so back to the confusion and frustration on that one.

This book was so damn gimmicky. I guess a lot of people would call that "style" or "technique" or something, but to me, it was just "LOOK AT ME! I'M DIFFERENT!" stage dressing that added nothing but irritation to the experience of reading this for me. I have a very low tolerance for gimmicks in books, and I feel that if an author is going to use anything at all other than words to tell his story, it had better fit and make sense, and add something. Nothing was added to the story or the experience for most of this stuff. Most of it was completely random - it literally could have been picked by the close your eyes and point method out of a table full of photos at an oddities shop. Or maybe this explains it:

Apparently, these are the pictures that are in Oskar's "Stuff That Happened To Me" book. Please, tell me, how did a picture of two turtles mating happen to him? A photo of a man on the ground during or after a tennis match? Two early Homo Sapiens walking together? When was he an astronaut? Or any of these: "a shark attacking a girl, someone walking on a tightrope between the Twin Towers, that actress getting a blowjob from her normal boyfriend, a soldier getting his head cut off in Iraq, the place on the wall where a famous stolen painting used to hang".

These things didn't happen to him, and I can't even see how they are even remotely related to him or anything he experienced - except perhaps in a symbolic or metaphorical way. But that doesn't fit. Oskar is extremely literal. He doesn't understand figures of speech, so I find it very difficult to think he'd have a scrapbook called "Stuff That Happened To Me" filled with symbolic or metaphorical pictures representing his feelings. If that's the case, why not just call it "Pictures Representing My Feelings"?

Oskar annoyed the hell out of me from the very beginning, and I just could not bring myself to like or identify with him. I tried. I mean, he's a little boy who thinks about things in a specific and ordered way, who needs stability, and his father dying pulled the rug out from under him. I tried. I just couldn't. I couldn't like this kid who can't see that his mother is actually grieving for her husband but notices things like the subway lines in New York only being above ground in "poor neighborhoods". I couldn't like this fucking selfish kid who tells his mother that he wishes he had a choice which parent died, who can't comprehend his mother or his grandmother having a life outside of him, who actually thinks things like "Why is she not waiting at the door? I'm the only thing that matters to her" about his grandmother.

Oh, but Oskar is such a charmer, you know, when he asks random women if he can kiss them, and tells them they are "incredibly beautiful". No, he means it. INCREDIBLY. BEAUTIFUL. All of them. He's the creepy fucking old man who stands too close on a train... just trapped in a 9 year old body.

And yet people just go with it. I know that Oskar's mom called around and told the people named Black that he'd be coming, but that wasn't until after he'd been around to a few, and still random people that he meets, all the people named Black that stalks tracks down on his investigation, they just go along with it, like it's not weird at all. Even if they were warned, I seriously doubt that every person would "play along". They act like they know that "heavy boots" means he's depressed rather than literally thinking that his shoes weigh a lot. They don't say "I don't kiss 9 year old boys" they say "It wouldn't be a good idea."

Speaking of which... Nobody EVER says what they mean in this book. Oskar says inappropriately honest things because he's literal and a child and probably has Asperger's, but when it comes to important things to him - his father - he shuts down. Incommunicado. Which is a huge theme in this book. Nobody talks to each other. Except of course for the perfect father-son relationship that Thomas/Oskar have.

Seriously, this was, I think for me, the most frustrating aspect of this book. It made me want to throw the damn thing across the room so many times. SO. MANY. TIMES. I hate, HATE, stupid people who suffer and cause other people to suffer needlessly because they are incapable of opening their fucking mouth, or getting a damn pen, or hiring a singing clown telegram, or a skywriter or communicating in SOME WAY with another person about their needs or fears or thoughts or... anything. Instead, these geniuses just close down, check out, and take ZERO responsibility for their own life, shirk EVERY decision and just refuse. Refuse what? Everything. Just fucking... GAH!

Half of this story is about Oskar's Grandma and Grandpa, and the shit's so convoluted and goddamn stupid that at the end I seriously could not believe that paper was wasted on this.

Ugh. You know, I was going to give you the Cliff's Notes version of the stupidity that is Oskar's Grandparents' relationship, but I actually can't bring myself to type it all out. So I'll just tell you that I literally hated reading about it, because they were both so stupid and I could not comprehend why they couldn't just TALK to each other.

Oh, but Grandpa doesn't talk. He writes everything down. One sentence per page. He singlehandedly kept the paper industry in business for 40+ years.

My overall impression of Grandma and Grandpa's lives: What a waste.

Anyway... Like I said. I wanted to like this book. I remember 9/11 and I remember how heartbreaking it was. I remember being glued to the TV and feeling almost physically sick. So I thought this book would be moving and beautiful and heartbreaking. But instead it was just frustrating. It was all over the place, gimmicky, and overall pointless, since Oskar's investigation had nothing at all to do with his father in the end.

What a waste.

Reviewed: 2015-11-28
Man, did this book make me wear heavy boots. I'm probably going to be wearing them for a few days after finishing this.

Oskar lost his father in the 9/11 attacks. Much like [b:The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time|1618|The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time|Mark Haddon|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327882682s/1618.jpg|4259809], he is a young boy trying to solve a mystery that really holds deeper meaning to understanding his entire life. But, this isnât just Oskarâs journey through grief; this is also about Oskarâs grandmother, grandfather, and his mother, too.

Is it uniquely written and a little gimmicky? Yes, but it worked for the narrative. Unique like Oskar, like his grandfather, like his grandmother, the different parts of the book fit together to tell the story of a family who have experienced and endured grief, joy, and all of the other parts of life that make it special.

I hesitate to say more, and urge you to experience this story for yourself.
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