Extremely loud & incredibly close

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Paper Book, 2005

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2005.

Description

Meet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, and pacifist. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Media reviews

The bigger problem is that Foer never lets his character wander off without an errand. In fact, there is hardly a line in this book that has not been written for the purpose of eliciting a particular emotion from the reader. The novel is a tearjerker. ...The skepticism and satire that marked the best parts of Everything Is Illuminated are nowhere in evidence here.
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Kirkus Reviews
The search for the lock that fits a mysterious key dovetails with related and parallel quests in this (literally) beautifully designed second novel from the gifted young author (Everything Is Illuminated, 2002). The searcher is nine-year-old Oskar Schell, an inventive prodigy who (albeit modeled on the protagonist of Grass's The Tin Drum) employs his considerable intellect with refreshing originality in the aftermath of his father Thomas's death following the bombing of the World Trade Center. That key, unidentified except for the word "black" on the envelope containing it, impels Oskar to seek out every New Yorker bearing the surname Black, involving him with a reclusive centenarian former war correspondent, and eventually the nameless elderly recluse who rents a room in his paternal grandma's nearby apartment. Meanwhile, unmailed letters from a likewise unidentified "Thomas" reveal their author's loneliness and guilt, while stretching backward to wartime Germany and a horrific precursor of the 9/11 atrocity: the firebombing of Dresden. In a riveting narrative animated both by Oskar's ingenuous assumption of adult responsibility and understanding (interestingly, he's "playing Yorick" in a school production of Hamlet) and the letter-writer's meaningful silences, Foer sprinkles his tricky text with interpolated illustrations that render both the objects of Oskar's many interests and the memories of a survivor who has forsworn speech, determined to avoid the pain of loving too deeply. The story climaxes as Oskar discovers what the key fits, and also the meaning of his life (all our lives, actually), in a long-awaited letter from astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Much more is revealed as this brilliant fiction works thrilling variations on, and consolations for, its plangent message: that "in the end, everyone loses everyone." Yes, but look what Foer has found. Film rights to Scott Rudin in conjunction with Warner Bros. and Paramount; author tour.

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
This is Oskar Schell’s business card:
“ 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.
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LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
Oscar Schell, the central character in this work, is a precocious, nerdy, obnoxious brat. There is absolutely nothing subtle about him. Ultimately, however, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. After all, he did lose his father at the World Trade Center because of the September 11 attack on them; a fact that at one and the same time is central to the narrative and ephemeral to the real story.

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.
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LibraryThing member mckait
I was sorry to see the word contrived used in other reviews, because that is
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.
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LibraryThing member JimElkins
Infuriating and baffling that Foer is so widely read. This is appalling schmaltz. He wants us to feel a twinge, maybe tear up, hopefully even bawl, and to do it, ideally, on every page. It isn’t enough that a man is losing his ability to speak: his wife has to be going blind. It isn’t enough that another man hasn’t spoken in two decades: he has to have a bed with three thousand nails driven into it, one for each year since his wife died. It isn’t enough to have a heart-rending letter from your father: you have to also have one from a convict who doesn’t even know he’s been in prison forty years, and anther letter, and another… At one point there is an unintentional parody of the one-cathartic-moment-per-page formula, when a woman is abandoned by her husband, and everything moves her: “A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table.” (p. 180) These sentences are separated by four or five spaces, because it isn’t enough just to read them: we have to feel the spaces, the emptiness, in the woman’s life, and we have to feel it again every time she says anything.
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.
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LibraryThing member auntmarge64
Oskar Schell is a precocious, inquisitive, inventive boy whose father died in the towers on 9/11. He has such a strong imagination he can’t come to grips with his father’s death because he keeps inventing new ways his father might have died. Oskar finds a key hidden in a vase in his father’s closet and begins a search throughout NYC to find out what it opens and to meet someone who can tell him more about his dad. The people he meets tell him their own stories. The rest of the time Oskar daydreams about marvelous inventions, many of which would help people in disasters (which he worries about all the time); he plays the tambourine, researches foreign websites where the more graphic photos from 9/11 are published, and writes to many important people (especially Stephen Hawking), asking to be their assistant. He’s very close to his grandmother, who lives across the street where they can easily communicate by walkie-talkie and see each other from their apartment windows. As she does her own grieving, she patiently answers his questions and listens to his worries, even when he calls at 3 or 4 a.m., which he has a tendency to do.

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.
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LibraryThing member Erica_W
What a wonderful read! It is written beautifully and with such an unusual voice. The style reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time with many asides and facts, but there is so much compassion in the prose that I hate to link them together! It was such a painful pleasure to read!
LibraryThing member Luli81
I had never done it before, but this time, after watching a movie trailer (and without having seen the whole thing) I bought the book the film was based on. To be precise, the book found me in a bookstore while checking out some other tittles and I couldn't resist buying it after having seen the movie trailer.

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.
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LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
I thought this was a very intriguing book. The boys search for the lock that goes with the key that belonged to his father is an enlightening journey. He comes in contact with many people who survived 9/11, as did his father, and through this journey he starts on the road to healing his wounds. Foer is a great writer. This book is serious, funny, exhilarating all at the same time.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElOsoBlanco
I can not say enough about the depth and beauty of this book. Please read this, and soon, before the movie comes out in January. Nothing against the movie, but I'm afraid it will taint the story you can find in the pages of this book.
LibraryThing member cedargrove
I read this book because it was indirectly recommended by members of a community to which I belong as being an awesome read. For me this was one of those books that was both the easiest, and the hardest thing that I've read in a long time. The story follows the search undertaken by nine year old Oskar after he finds a key that had belonged to his late father, (who died in the attack on 9/11), to find the lock that it fits, but as it unfolds we find that the narrative contains much more than just that 'simple' adventure.

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.
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LibraryThing member yougotamber
One of the best books I have read in a long time. I believe it has made it to my top 10 and possibly even my top 5. His characters are so well written and unique. So many things spoke to me in this book... things I experienced but I couldn't express and Jonathan Safran Foer put them into the words that I never could. I would recommend this book to EVERYONE. I finished it quickly and it saddened me when I turned that last page. Ending a good book is terrible because you know you won't have that wonderful experience for a very long time. This is what this book does, it gives you that feeling... the feeling of loss, loss over an excellent reading experience that only happens a few times in your life. Pick it up, read it and love it... you won't regret it, I promise you.… (more)
LibraryThing member ted_newell
He had me page after page 'til the end but since the story is meaningless it is no wonder that the end was as he made it. There is no real answer to tragedy of course. I thought Foer tracked as close as he could to saying that the American bombing of Dresden was as incomprehensible and tragic as was an Islamist attack on 3000 civilians, that is, "we" are as implicated in the mess as anybody.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookwormBelle
What Foer did here was amazing. To be able to tell not only the story of 9-year old Oskar Schell, but also that of his grandmother and grandfather in such a beautiful and real way was incredible. This is one of those books that will stay with you throughout your life.
LibraryThing member LFerda
I thought this was a fantastic book. It was easy to read but very thought-provoking and even mysterious at times. Throughout the story you begin to feel attached to the characters and the tasks they have set before them.
Connecting this book to a curriculum would not be too difficult, but might be met with some resistance. There is some profanity used and some sexual situations, although not overly graphic. It could be used in a high school English course in the context of recent history.… (more)
LibraryThing member dldbizacct
Wow. This book is beautiful, painful, haunting, uplifting, powerful -- so many things. The writing is superb, the plot is complex and mesmerising, the characters -- you just fall in love with them. This is a book that will stay with me a long time.
LibraryThing member kambrogi
Although I have not read Foer’s [Everything is Illuminated], I have seen the film and can say that the two have much in common: the legacy of a grandmother and grandfather, the scars of the Holocaust, a lost father and a highly intellectual young man on a quest involving family and identity. This story takes place in NYC, and adds an additional layer with the tragedy of 9/11 and a huge cast of minor characters in all the corners of the city (or so it seems to a non-New Yorker), as the young man searches for information on his lost father. Much of the book I loved: the voice of the protagonist, the melding/overlapping of past and present tragedies, and the themes that are played out through three pivotal characters. However, I found the lengthy stories of the New Yorkers whom the young man visits in his quest – characters who ultimately constitute dead ends in his search – rather tedious. I suspect they are meant to illustrate the fabric of a city and the tragedies of everyday citizens (mostly unrelated to 9/11), however there are just too many of them, and they are too random to tie up easily into what is already a multi-layered plot.… (more)
LibraryThing member olongbourn
Extremely moving & Incredibly touching! If you're ready for a 9-11 story, let this be the one you choose.
LibraryThing member joes
Extremely disappointing and Incredibly boring more like. Following on from the very entertaining 'Everything is Illuminated' Foer spends much of the time in this book trying to impress with avant-garde devices and tangental plots rather than focussing on the narrative, leaving me at least, more than happy that the last good number of pages were photogaphs rather than more reading I had to plough through.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sivani
I have been mulling over my response to the book for a long while. I decided to address the book on several levels and in terms of other reactions to it by my reading group.

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.

Characterization:
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:
Hmm.

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.

The novel:
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.
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LibraryThing member queenoftheshelf
Nine year old Oskar is on a quest to find out the meaning behind a key in a vase that belonged to his father. He cannot ask his father what it means because he died on September 11th and the only thing that is holding Oskar together is having something else to think about besides this tragedy. Concurrently we learn of Oskar's Grandmother and Grandfather, their lives intertwined by the firebombing of Dresden during WWII. Their lives, emotions, grief and pain are all played out for us in this intense, engaging, and emotional novel.
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.
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Half of a great book. The part narrated by Oskar is mesmerizing and moving. The part narrated by his grandparents, survivors of Dresden, is overwritten.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
By far one of the best books I have listened to this year is Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud, and Incredibly Close. Appropriately, I finished this book yesterday, 8 years after the attack on the World Trade Center. The 9 year old hero, Oskar Schell, loses his father in the 9/11 terrorist attack. After finding a key hidden in his father's closet, Oskar embarks on a search of the 5 boroughs of NYC, looking for the lock that will fit this key.
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.
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LibraryThing member Lyndatrue
This hurt to read. I don't think it will ever quit hurting.
LibraryThing member francophoney
While I thoroughly enjoyed the portions of this book told by the point-of-view of the young boy, I felt the rest of the narrative was significantly less captivating. This, alas, left me feeling a bit disappointed at times.
LibraryThing member PennyAnne
Self-indulgent, 'arty' rubbish with characters that neither engage the reader nor engender any empathy for their situation. I liked this book at the beginning but the further I got into it (and it is a very quick book to read, what with the photos, empty pages, pages with one line on them, pages of coloured scribblings, etc etc) the more I realised how hollow it was and how much it 'referred' to the work of other (infinitely greater) authors.… (more)

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