Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Jonathan Safran Foer

This one was another recommendation from my fiance, who read this book for a high school English class and remembers it fondly to this day. Yes, I realize there’s a movie as well. No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve heard it’s treacly bloated award bait, though it does have Tom Hanks, which is always a redeeming factor.

Enjoyed some homemade s’more brownies with my book

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of Oskar Schell, a curious 9 year old boy, and his struggle to process the loss of his father, who passed away on September 11, 2001. The stated plot is Oskar trying to find the owner of a mysterious key in his father’s closet. The key is nondescript and labeled ‘Black’. He traipses about New York City, with a phone book as a guide, looking for everyone with the surname Black that he can possibly meet. Oskar meets an assortment of people, each with trauma and history, and learns the beginnings of what it means to move on.

Oskar struggles to relate to his mother, his grandmother, and those around him. They appear to be healing faster, moving on too quickly. The pain he feels is palpable, and it’s this genuine pain and outward grief that propels the novel forward and makes the narrative interesting.

In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York is in heavy boots.

However, my compliments end here.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the few novels I’ve read that buries a solid concept and theme under layers of artifice and pretentiousness. Foer wastes entire pages on single lines, which might just be a personal pet peeve, but it annoyed me to no end. The black and white photographs were interesting, but I didn’t feel that they added to the narrative in any way. Oskar’s story itself is so compelling, a child’s perspective on loss juxtaposed with a national tragedy, but Foer can’t let the story speak for itself.

This is exemplified by Oskar himself. I enjoyed his precociousness, but at times it felt like the author lost perspective. No matter how mature and intelligent, Oskar is a child. I’ve heard the movie tries to excuse his perspective with Asperger’s syndrome, but this is hardly a competent reason why.

Additionally, I found that the subplot concerning Oskar’s grandparents, complete with letters and chapters written in their own shattered stream of consciousness, didn’t contribute to a cohesive work at all. It felt as if Foer had two distinct stories to tell, and just cobbled them together with pieces of tape. The melodrama of their lives had its fair share of interest, but proved exhausting in the context of this novel. Perhaps he should have written a self contained piece, of the Dresden attacks and growing old.

I could go on about this one, I honestly could. My overall impression was enjoyment, but this is nothing if not a flawed novel, inflated by ego. I’ll take what I enjoyed from the book and leave behind the rest.

Published by Malavika Praseed

Malavika Praseed is a writer, book reviewer, and genetic counselor. Her fiction has been published in Plain China, Cuckoo Quarterly, Re:Visions, and others. Her podcast, YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and various other platforms

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