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.
“ INVENTOR, JEWELRY DESIGNER,JEWELRY FABRICATOR, AMATEUR ENTOMOLOGIST, FRANCOPHILE, VEGAN, ORIGAMIST, PACIFIST, PERCUSSIONIST…”
Oskar is nine years old and he is on a quest. While combing through his father’s belongings, he finds an odd-shaped key, that does not fit anything in their apartment. The boy believes this key holds important answers. Two years earlier, his father, who the boy worshiped, perished in the WTC collapse, leaving Oskar sad and confused.
The boy begins searching the five boroughs of NY, armed with the key and the single word “Black”. Along the way he meets many colorful characters, some despondent, others content and helpful.
The story, vividly written, is a perfect blend of humor and pathos, with the inclusion of drawings, photographs and charts to accelerate the narrative along. This is my first book by Foer and I am an instant fan. Highly recommended.
The annotation on the jacket tells us Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a story centered around the World Trade Center attack. While not strictly untrue, the story goes much deeper than that. This is a story of belonging, a story of coming to grips with who we are, coming to grips with the forces that shape us, coming to grips with the things we keep locked up inside us, how the present mirrors the past, and how, ultimately, we are all connected to one another.
These themes are brought to us through other central characters woven into this story. We meet Oscar’s Grandmother and Grandfather, each eccentric in their own way, and learn that their lives were shaped by the tragedy of what happened to Dresden during the Second World War. We see the destruction through their eyes and feel their loss of family and friends. This is mirrored through Oscar’s eyes as we see the destruction and loss of his family through the eyes of a young boy. There are other equally captivating characters throughout the entire narrative, each with their own unique story to tell us.
If this were just a story filled with death and destruction, it would appeal to only a limited audience and would not have captured the attention of as many people as it has. The heavy mood of all this inhumanity is balanced by Oscar meeting and befriending people during his travels, touching their lives in ways he can’t imagine, and helping them in their journey to being who they are. In turn each of these people help Oscar along as well. We are also shown how love endures after death and how those departed can still touch the lives of those left behind in a positive way.
The writing is clear and concise. Each word seems carefully chosen. The characters are all finely crafted, like one of the Grandfather’s sculptures, and the dialog is very believable. Soliloquies in many other works are nothing more than boring footnotes. Here, they help bring the true story to the surface and each character’s reminiscences essential to advancing our understanding of the full story. While certainly not a lighthearted feel good story, the ending brings full closure to all the characters and to the reader’s experience.
Not for the squeamish as some of the destruction sequences are accurately portrayed, yet it does not go over the top with the details either. There is a grand cast of eccentric and true-to-life characters waiting for you here if you enjoy character driven stories. If you are looking for an explanation of man’s inhumanity to man, you won’t find it here, but you will find reason enough to keep going and hope that life will be bearable.
how I planned to describe my feelings about this book. To me it read like a book
that was written to take advantage of certain book trends. There are many people
who seek out books on 9/11 for instance.
There are also a huge number of books written about children with Asperger's and
OCD or other things that make them stand out. I am not sure if Oskar was meant to
be special only in his precociousness, or if it was a mental illness that made him
so different from most other children, but I feel that was another bandwagon on which
the author was trying to find space. He certainly is different from other children his
age. To me, so different as to be unbelievable.
It was also unbelievable to me that he was allowed to wander New York on his own
or with strangers. As a mom, it just did not ring true, no matter how smart he was
meant to be. What educated parent, especially one who just lost a spouse, would allow
that at his age? Certainly this was not meant to be a fantasy? Although now that I give it
some thought, there was enough fantastical content to tip it slightly in that direction.
I am irritated that I fell victim to the hype and the well constructed movie trailers
that made reading this seem like a good idea. It had no flow, a disjointed story and
a very unrealistic thread running through it in my opinion.
NOT recommended at all.
People say the book is well written. But when the writing is good, it is always necessary to say what purpose it serves. The most stupefyingly miasmic adventitious emotional crises are propped up, electrified, by Foer’s tack-sharp cleverness: but why do that? Why not write standard Romantic prose? The book is like an emotional Frankenstein, a nineteenth-century romance novel brought to life with McSweeney’s style wit and dispatch, who can only sit around and blubber.
The book is a swill of perfumed emotions. It is elaborately artificial and yet gluely emotional: as if the exotic perfumes of Huysmans were to meet the kitschy sentimentality of O Henry. What kind of people feel emotion this way? What kind of reader thinks that real, powerful emotion comes in 300-word bursts, repeated 300 times in the course of a novel? What kind of person is always so close to tears that they are moved by this kind of writing? It’s frightening, really, that there are people for whom this is a persuasive account of our emotional lives.
Interspersed is the story of Oskar’s grandfather, a survivor of the Dresden bombings who lost all that he loved that day and who hasn’t spoken since, who deserted his wife before Oskar’s father was born. The two stories become intertwined in interesting ways to lead to healing and understanding for both of them.
This book is simply wonderful. Oskar is a gem of a character, and I fell in love with him from the first page. Mixed into his musings and adventures are pictures of the things he thinks about (especially a man falling from the towers) and letters he receives back from the people he writes, as well as entries from the book his grandfather uses to communicate with people and letters he’s written his son (Oskar’s father) throughout the last 40 years but has never mailed. The format can be a bit confusing but also intriguing, and in that respect it reminded me of "The Book Thief", another fabulous read. (One note about reading on the Kindle: be sure you have decent eyes before you do this, because the print in some of the diary entries is not enlargeable and it is smaller than the smallest Kindle font.) Very highly recommended.
Result: It happened what usually happens in these cases: disappointment.
The story: Oskar, a nine year-old Jewish boy who lives in New York and whose father was killed on September 11th, 2001. After finding a hidden key in his father's closet, he is determined to find the lock which can be opened with that key, meeting all kind of different people on the way.
My opinion: The story had potential (as the movie trailer), it seemed an imaginative and even magical story, one of those who leaves you in a estate between emotional and wishful, one of those stories which makes you remember of your childhood days and leaves a permanent stupid smile on your face.
It seemed to start that way, but as the story moved forward, I started to dislike the kid. He seemed a bit obnoxious, a know-it-all, even a bit impertinent and difficult to sympathise with.
The fact that there's also the story of Oskar's grandparents (and a strange story if I may say so) told by his autistic disappeared grandpa didn't help to keep me hooked, the main subject became blurred and unfocused and I ended up wanting to finish as soon as possible in order to start another book, one of the worst things, in my opinion, which can happen while reading a novel.
So, as much as I regret it, I wouldn't recommend this novel, even though I won't deny it's told in an original kind of way and that it might appeal to those with a more artistic soul than mine.
Either I might be getting older or I just like classic and plain direct stories without too many distracting ornaments which lead you to a predictable ending, but I can't say I enjoyed this novel as much as I expected.
Oskar Schell is trying to make sense of his dad’s death in the World Trade Towers on 9/11. He comes across a key inside a vase on the top shelf of his father’s closet and is convinced that if he can find the lock that the key fits he’ll find out something important about his father. So without telling his mother, or anyone else for that matter, he begins to search the boroughs of New York for the answer.
This is a great premise and I really wanted to like this book. I loved Oskar and the parts of the book written in his voice were the ones with which I most easily connected. But Foer is also telling the story of Oskar’s grandparents and includes chapters from both his grandmother’s and grandfather’s perspectives. These quickly become disjointed. Then there are the illustrations and photos interspersed throughout the book, as well as the red-ink editing notations (something Oskar’s father would do with the Sunday NY Times). These “interesting” typefaces, coupled with the occasional sudden changes in narrative voice, were just distracting to me. They seemed to be screaming “Look how clever I am!” rather than actually adding anything of value to the narrative. The title is, therefore, perfect. Foer’s effort is “extremely loud and incredibly close” … but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, not in literature.
In the days and weeks following 9/11, I remember reading every article about what was happening in NYC. But eventually, all those sad stories - families torn apart, people putting up posters looking for someone, people holding hands as they jumped out of the WTC - would make me cry and I had to stop. This book made me relive some of the horror and sadness of those days. But while I was listening, I found the process cathartic. Did I cry? Buckets -but I also laughed and I absolutely loved this book. Extremely well done and Incredibly moving - 5 stars.
Treatment of 9/11 and the Dresden bombing:
Foer had come under fire from a few irate reviewers because he "dared" to write about the 9/11 tragedy.
I thought that Foer's treatment of 9/11 seemed appropriate within the context of the book. He did not sensationalize it, he did not demonize the attackers, he did not dwell repeatedly and extensively on the grisly details. However asking him, as a New Yorker, not to write about 9/11 would be like asking someone to ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the living room.
While 9/11 would be in most people's lexicon and references to it are enough, Dresden (more than sixty years ago) no longer is. I can understand his need to explain and illustrate (verbally) the events, especially in the context of the grandfather's extreme reaction to them.
I found most of the characters to be drawn well, and Oskar to be quite believable. The characters I had the greatest difficulty with were the grandparents, and I would have been inclined to have dismissed them as fancies of Oskar, were it not for the fact that they told their own stories independently, corroborating each other.
The graphic elements:
Firstly, I think the general reaction to them seemed too extreme. I don't think that they signal the demise of the book as we know it, nor do I think they are an indicator of all that ails society or the youth of today etc. The furore over e.e. cummings' antics proved needless - occasionally a poet will use an isolated instance of his typographic pyrotechnics for a particular purpose i.e. it has found its niche, and appropriately so.
I think Foer is demonstrating that our current concept of novel could bear expansion; his was an extreme, over the top sample but, given his particular subject matter, appropriate. While not every novel does this, the idea of representing a business card centered (and at times even outlined) within the text of the page, or perhaps a plaque or sign in larger type, have existed for years. Certainly letters and diary entries are represented appropriately with right-justified addresses, dated headings and the like. This is taking the same concept to the next level (sorry, several levels). Foer is not just telling us (the pen testing, the images, the grandfather's notebooks etc) but *showing* us.
In this particular novel, I kept imagining the main text to be in a journal kept by Oskar, perhaps even written in his hand, with the sheets, pictures, letters, pages from other notebooks to be pasted into that journal. Overall for me it added to the poignancy.
Would I wish every novel to be this way? Certainly not! But then again, I don't consider that to be a serious likelihood.
Poignancy is a recurring word for me when I think about the novel. The strongest theme for me is that of loss, in so many different ways. Oskar's loss was brought about by 9/11, but really it might have been in any of a number of different circumstances. And the people around him, along with the people he meets on his quest, demonstrate that point - loss occurs all around us for all sorts of reasons, affecting us in many different ways.
The accompanying theme that is frequently overlooked though is the one of healing and recovery; there are as many different ways of recovery as there are loss, and everyone is in a different stage of the healing process.
Overall I think the story was handled well with only occasional heavy-handedness, we were made to care about Oskar although less successfully about his grandparents, the tone during Oskar's narrative remained consistent and believable without descending into syrup, and suspense was created on several different levels: Oskar's quest; the grandparents' story; Oskar's emotional state to name but a few. I personally found the grandparents' story the weakest part of the novel, and the one where the peculiarities seemed the most far-fetched.
I don't think I can bring myself to quite assign it four stars; three and a half will do.
The storis themselves are not about the key or what it means, the story is that Oskar is desperately trying to find meaning when something he loves is violently ripped away. It's the story of learning how to let go, learning how to grieve, and, above all, learning how to live. The writing style for Oskar is stream of consciousness, we're in this story, then we're remembering some other time, then we're thinking about something that could happen in the future, it feels very realistic for a 9-year-old. The intertwining story oh Oskar's grandparents are less easy to dissect, you're never really sure who is talking and when, but that is the point in the long run. The story of grieving through the tragedy of 9/11 was particularly resonant, unabashedly confronting the very human face behind it. Overall, this was an incredibly satisfying read and highly recommended.
The whole story is told through a series of linear narratives, flashbacks, and letters that are all interlinked and self-referring, and it seems, at first, hard to follow. The reader is left to make the determination of which flashbacks belong to whom, and in long passages of text, which pronoun belongs to what character. That said, if you stick with the book, everything begins to come together the closer you get to the end, and you're left reflecting back on what you've just read as if someone has just hit you over the head with a ten ton brick. The wall of confusion crumbles away, and all of the emotions that have been held back behind that wall come flooding in. As such it is one of the most powerfully moving and evocative books I think I have ever read, and yet still I feel I need to read it again to more fully understand the parts I know I missed.
One thing the reader must become accustomed to, is that Foer defies many expected literary conventions, especially concerning the formatting of speech, as he does not begin a new paragraph for each new speaker. Whilst at first I found this incredibly irritating and almost off-putting, it soon became second nature to ignore, and somehow enhanced the experience of reading a book that felt almost in the end like a journey through the mind and thoughts of the little boy out on his quest to find his answers – with his 'heavy boots' and the 'things he knows' all flowing around like flotsam and jetsam in an almost stream of consciousness-like telling.
So in the end, yes… an awesome book, one that I'm glad I read, and one which I hope to read again – or perhaps listen to.
The problem lies with the narrators themselves. Their stories are interesting, even mesmerizing. Unfortunately, Oskar is too precocious and a bit too condescending for someone his age, while Oskar’s grandfather is too rigid and remote to allow a reader to build those necessary emotional connections with either narrator. The idea of an eight-year-old wandering around all five boroughs of New York by himself, especially in this day and age of hyper-vigilance of children brought on by an increased fear of kidnapping, is too preposterous to consider remotely plausible. Even when he finally asks someone to keep him company on his search, Oskar’s searches do not mirror the close attention everyone paid to their loved ones in the aftermath of 9/11, even years its occurrence.
As for Oskar’s grandfather, his story is more convoluted than Oskar’s as the way it is told is less direct and less honest. What makes his narrative unenjoyable is his character itself, especially as a reader not only gets to build a mental image of him through his own words, they also get the benefits of Oskar’s grandmother’s impressions of her wayward husband. While he is trying to justify his actions to his unborn son, his words appear as excuses even while he is simultaneously attempting to overcome his own guilt. He is not lying to himself but he is not being 100 percent honest either. The result is that he comes across to readers as cold, incapable of loving anyone other than his dead first love, and unwilling to even attempt to change.
At the same time a reader is attempting to overcome his or her aversions to either narrator, the print version of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close contains pictures, drawings, and other images that are supposed to enhance a reader’s appreciation and understanding of the story. Instead, and perhaps this is the fault of the e-book rather than the print version, these images were more of a distraction, one that jolts a reader out of the story rather than augmenting it.
That being said, there is one scene near the end, complete with pictures, that negate everything previously stated about the novel. It is the one time in which Oskar loses his inadvertent condescension and is finally able to speak the painful truth. The images that follow are painful and palpably dredge up the terror and horror that everyone throughout the nation was feeling on September 11th, 2001. It is as unforgettable a scene that ever was written in a novel.
Unfortunately, one scene, no matter how powerful, cannot overcome an entire novel filled with idiosyncrasies and foibles. While it is a scene that will haunt a reader for a long time, if not forever, the rest of the novel is too convoluted and disjointed for meaningful enjoyment. The fault lies not with the stories themselves but rather with the narrators chosen to tell the stories and the lack of bridges between narrators. The narrator shifts are abrupt, unannounced and often without any indication of which narrator is now telling his or her story. It is up to a reader to not only keep track of each narrator but also to keep the individual threads of the story together until they finally combine. This places a lot of pressure and responsibility on the reader, especially for a novel about such an emotional topic.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a novel that people either seem to love or feel ambivalent about it. I fall into the latter category. The entire story felt a bit too gimmicky to feel authentic. As the mother of an eight-year-old, I cannot overcome the idea of letting a child that age roam around a city, let alone New York City, by himself. While I recognize that Oskar is struggling with his grief and the sheer terror of what happened that day, his voice is not one I find appealing. As for his grandfather, he just left me feeling sick to my stomach. Again, I understand the trauma and horror of what he experienced, but his actions produce their own kind of revulsion. The penultimate scene, wherein Oskar finally reveals his father’s last message, is appropriately shocking and disturbing enough to trouble me for a long time to come, but that does not override my discomfort of the entire novel. That being said, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a novel that will generate a myriad of reactions in readers, all of which will be as personal and unique as one’s individual experiences and reactions on September 11th.
This is a 9/11 book and because of that it took me six years to read it. And what's funny is that I KNEW I'd love it. I really enjoyed Everything Is Illuminated, but because of the subject matter, I just didn't want to read it. Turns out I was just being silly.
But I also feel that things are presented to us when we are most ready to receive them and I believe that this was the case with this novel. As much as the book is about 9/11, it's also about fathers and sons and since I became a Dad a few years ago, I've changed. I can't say for certain that I'd have read the book differently six years ago. I do, after all, have a father of my own. But something about Oskar and his search for his father and the burden that he keeps wrapped up in a scarf affected me deeply. And then the elder Thomas Snell... never quite able to reach out to his son because he's so anchored to the past.
The women are also very well done. The Grandmother is given significatly more space, but I felt that Oskar's mother was a more fully realized character. Some may disagree, but since we mostly see her from Oskar's perspective, we see what young Oksar sees. As a parent, you don't want your children to see you suffer. You do it alone, in secret. I can't imagine how much she died every day, forced to swallow her suffering and put on a brave face for her son.
It's an excellent book and I can't recommend it more.