Publication Date: April 5, 2005
In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Oskar Schell is a nine-year-old on a mission that will take him all over New York City. He has a key left by his father who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As he travels from borough to borough, he explores new ways to keep those he loves safe.
There are some books that people read and claim to understand in order to seem intelligent in their peer group. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a book that received mixed reviews but did very well in sales and was made into a movie in 2011. John Updike, in his New Yorker review of the novel, called it “thinner, overextended and sentimentally watery (than Foer’s first novel).” A friend of mine who recommended that I read the novel called it “inspiring, life-changing, heart-wrenching.” While Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close may have changed her life; I found it somewhat less earth-shattering.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, touched all of us deeply. It is one of those days where many of us remember precisely where we were when we heard the news. A story about a nine-year-old losing someone so dear to him on that terrible day and released a few years after the event could not help but evoke a sense of desperate loss from readers. Who wouldn’t be invested in little Oskar and wants everything to turn out right for him? What follows is a bouncing castle experience between Oskar’s experiences and memories. Oskar is contrived and precocious as he travels New York asking everyone he can find with the last name Black if they recognize a key that his father left behind. As he travels, Oskar invents things and his inventions are at times shamefully and emotionally manipulating the reader.
There were times that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close read like classic Vonnegut but I think those times were more unintentionally ridiculous than esoterically surreal. While I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to the end, Foer managed the impossible — he made me not care about a child who lost his father in a terrible tragedy. The story was confusing at some times, muddled at other times and generally just difficult to follow. I hesitate to mention a letter about the grandmother’s sex life read by a nine-year-old.
In the more interesting news, there seems to be a lot of claims of plagiarism associated with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Jonathan Safran Foer. I won’t malign the author with links but suggest a Google search if you’re interested. I find it terribly hard to believe that there is another such book out there and especially hard to believe that anyone would copy it, but that is the claim.
Scores of readers loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (though scores also found it overworked and under-interesting). If this is a novel for you, don’t let my review dissuade you. If I were the one standing by the shelf in the bookstore, I’d keep browsing. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was pretentious and overly experimental or perhaps just a book I simply did not get.
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