|Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer
3.5 / 5
"What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me?"
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is a precocious Francophile who idolizes Stephen Hawking and plays the tambourine extremely well. He's also a boy struggling to come to terms with his father's death in the World Trade Center attacks. As he searches New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he left behind, Oskar discovers much more than he could have imagined.
Hmmm. I'm not sure what I thought of this book, really. It hovers between a 3.5 and a 4 for me. In some ways it was such a beautiful piece, and in other ways, well - I kind of wanted to shake Oskar Schell until he stopped being so rude and annoying! He was a fantastic character, in the sense of a "character": one who has quite a bit of dimension to him. He was a seriously precocious kid who you sometimes forgot was just nine. But he could be so incredibly annoying, too! He didn't seem to have a filter and he offended others easily by his nosiness. If I had encountered him in real life, I probably would not have wanted to interact with him.
However, the book had a beautiful generational aspect to it, which echoed Everything Is Illuminated, Foer's first book. Both spanned from WWII to the present, which leads me to assume is a time period which really intrigues Foer. Both included stories of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren and how they arrived where they currently find themselves. I was particularly interested in the aspects of the story which pertained to 9/11: Oskar's father died in the attack, and I think this might be the first book I've read since Julia Glass' The Whole World Over which truly dove unabashedly into the tragic event. Perhaps I've read others; I'm sure there have been more. But because that was such a momentous day that we lived through, and I recall well how touchy people were about the attacks for years later (they had to postpone TV shows and movies which featured the World Trade Center towers, in order to edit them out, didn't they?). So it's interesting to see the tide finally turn, and people want to really touch on the anguish of that time.
In any case, the premise of the book is neat, with Oskar wanting to discover the origins of a key that he found in his father's room after his death. I found that also a bit frustrating, though, because his father didn't know he was going to die on September 11, 2001! And he certainly wasn't sick or anything; this was a totally unexpected death. So why would he have left clues to a posthumous puzzle?! It bothered me that the kid didn't think about that, that he just figured his father had left him a clue and that was that, he had to move forward in solving it. Ultimately, I guess one could say it was just his way of coping with his dad's untimely death. But still. At least the book had a good mystery to it, although even that wasn't quite solved to my satisfaction. I guess I'm just more critical of this book than I want to be, which is why I keep wavering on every assertion I make! I'm sorry. I'll leave it at this: it was definitely an enjoyable enough book to read, and if you like Foer, then you'll definitely not hate this one. It was an interesting take on the whole 9/11 thing. I just didn't love it, that's all - and I had hoped to. Ah, well. Live & learn!
P.S. I was totally unaware in 2011 that this was made into a movie, too! I'll definitely have to watch it.
P.P.S. I have to admit, I was totally enchanted by the grandparents' story: particularly of the silence, and the writing, and the way the two danced around each other, withholding when they should have been sharing. Those were my favorite parts of the book, because they were so real. I should have written that in my above review, but I just thought of it now!
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