#131 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel by Jonathan Safran Foer

Summary:

I felt like I had ADHD while reading this book. That was my first observance. This book is very genius in its own way. It has also recently been turned into a movie and for some reason, it was only twenty-five cents on Amazon one day, so I bought it.

Oskar is a little boy. He is about eight or nine years old, but Oskar doesn’t seem like your average eight or nine-year old boy. Sure he is inquisitive, but for the most part, Oskar is weird.

Oskar’s not weird in a bad way. Oskar is very, very smart. The way Oskar behaves almost makes me wonder if he’s either a bonified genius or an autistic savant.

Oskar invents things. He creates all kinds of fantastic ideas in his head, like ambulances that are really long and connect to every hospital. This idea, although impractical, is rather whimsical for a child. I actually had my doubts to whether Oskar was actually a child and not a disabled adult, until I actually got some firm facts about how old Oskar was.

Oskar lives in New York City with his mother. His grandmother lives across the street. Let me tell you now, this entire family is strange, or at the very least, very quirky. Oskar isn’t the only character in our story. In this book we also meet Oskar’s mother briefly, she’s not a major influence in the book, Oskar’s father, Oskar’s grandmother, and Oskar’s grandfather. There are also brief visits with Oskar’s great-grandfather and a great-aunt within the book.

A tragedy struck Oskar a few years ago. This tragedy actually struck an entire nation. Oskar’s tragedy was September 11th. His father died that day. Nobody who was alive and aware of their surroundings that day is ever going to forget what they were doing when they heard about what had happened, or where they were when they watched the towers fall on the television. It was an event that has changed the United States forever in some good ways and in some bad ways. This is a tragedy we are still dealing with in terms of Afghanistan. I was close to the military for several years and knew plenty of women who sent their husbands off to Afghanistan, still facing the effects of a day over ten years ago. Luckily, all the men I knew who were sent there came back alive.

I sort of feel like Foer is trying to capitalize on 9/11. Yes, there are plenty of people who wrote books about that day and they have made plenty of people. Think of the “let’s roll” widow. I’m not saying it was bad of her to write her book, I am just saying that no matter what the motive, these authors are capitalizing off of a tragedy. Now that I said this, I do think that Foer does an ok job of exploring the aftermath 9/11 could have had on a child.

Back to the book, Oskar wants deeply to connect with his dead father. They were very close in life and Oskar misses him terribly. Oskar’s father was really the only mentor he had in life. It is true that Oskar writes to famous people and asks them plenty of questions, but Oskar’s real-life mentor was his father. They had games that only the two of them could understand.

On the day of the death of Thomas Schnell, Oskar finds a blue vase in his father’s closet. Inside that vase is a key in an envelope simply labeled, “Black.” Oskar figures this is a person’s name and soon makes the choice to search for what lock the key goes to. He visits person after person in the phone book. Along the way he meets some very interesting people including a 103 year old man, who is very interesting indeed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about a couple of the other people in Oskar’s family. Probably the most interesting, and the most screwed up, is Oskar’s grandfather, the original Thomas Schnell. Thomas Schnell lived in Dresden back in the day, by ‘back in the day’, I mean WWII era. He had a romance with a nearby girl who was two years older than himself. Things went great until bombs were dropped on the city. Thomas survived, but Anna, his girlfriend did not, and neither did Thomas’ parents.

Thomas loses his words. He doesn’t speak. He claims he is a sculptor and writes everything he says in little notebooks one sentence on one page at a time. When he runs out of room he just points to a phrase that matches the most. He meets Anna’s younger sister and somehow to two end up married. They have a very strange life. Their life is filled with animals of all sorts. Spaces are designated something and nothing. They ignore the nothing spaces. The nothing spaces are places where a person can go to not exist.

Thomas leaves. Oskar’s grandmother is pregnant when he does leave. That child is Oskar’s father. Oskar’s father is also a little odd. The entire family is odd.

At one point Thomas does decide to make a reappearance, but does it matter to anyone?

What I liked: This book was all over the place crazy. My mind wanders, but this book was like my mind on twenty Red Bulls. I really felt like is was spastic. In some ways I really liked this aspect and in some ways I hated it.

Oskar is an interesting little guy. He tries very hard to cope with something that you would never want a child of his age to cope with. He seems very grown up in many ways, but very infantile in others. He is mostly independent, but still needs others around to boost him up.

I like that most of the characters have redeeming characteristics. They’re not all terrible people. They do good things, but they also have their faults.

 What I didn’t like: Did I mention that it felt like I had ADHD while reading this book? Yes, I felt like my brain was trying to be all over the place all at once. Foer’s writing is very spastic. Not in the sense that he jumps from one person to the next in one sentence, but in a sense that so much is happening. Oskar is a hard little kid to keep up with.

There are phrases the characters use and those phrases can be endearing, but those phrases are also strange. I’m sure most families have some sort of inside joke or code, but like I said, Oskar’s family is strange.

I’m not too fond of the fact that Foer seems to want to squeeze both WWII and 9/11 into the same book. Yes, it’s true there are going to be some people directly affected by both, but they’re aren’t that many. WWII is getting to be quite a long time ago. For me, it feels like it’s a little too much. It almost seems like a tragedy where the author was playing a game with himself. The nature of the game was to see how much tragedy he could push into the lives of the characters he created. Sure, there are some people, who legitimately, have had tragic lives, but generally, those people aren’t your average person walking down the street. Most people have almost an equal mix of good and bad in their lives. They’ve reached an equilibrium.

Towards the end of the book, I did feel like some of the tragedy was lifted off the backs of the characters.

Overall, I think it was definitely worth twenty-five cents. It was a spastic read, but not unenjoyable. I really have to give the author kudos for being able to shove so much into one book. Each character really has their own style. The writing style changes from character to character. If this book were oral only, each character would speak with a different voice. That is a nifty achievement.

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