So, I don’t know if I’ve told you the story of how I came to own Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book had LONG been on my TBR list, especially after I read (and was soon after changed by) Everything is Illuminated. I had seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close several times while working at Half-Price Books, but since it never made it to clearance, I put it off til another day. That was until I saw a paperback copy about to be shelved. That’s right: this paperback fool found a paperback gem. If US publishers have ever published a paperback version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I’ve never seen it. And neither have my co-workers. My assistant manager marveled that I had found a copy. Things got even better when he rung me out; Half-Price employees receive half off all used books, including paperbacks. When a paperback doesn’t have a price printed on the back (or the price is in pounds), we give it to you for 98 cents. Lucky for me, my rare paperback was printed in England and so I bought it for, get this: 50 cents. Great story, right?
But back to the review. First of all, can I say how insanely jealous I am of Jonathan Safran Foer. The dude is 33 years old. He was 25 when he published Everything is Illuminated, and soon after became uber popular, beloved and critically acclaimed. God, I’m going to be 25 next September…HOW CAN I POSSIBLY LIVE UP TO THIS.
OK, let’s REALLY get to the review. I loved this book. Simple as that.
Foer tells the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father died in the 9/11 attacks. After finding a key in his father’s closet, Oskar sets off to try every one of New York’s 162 million locks to solve what he believes to be the last scavenger hunt his father left him.
Like Foer’s previous work (one wonders if this will be a pattern for him), Foer’s protagonist must explore history and the people who live it in the face of unspeakable tragedy. The entire story is overshadowed by five messages Oskar’s father left on their answering machine right before the towers fell. Oskar hides the phone from his mother, all the while burying his pain and weighing down his “heavy boots.” You see, Oskar is a special child. Incredibly intelligent, and yet a bit off, Oskar is intensely curious and slightly neroutic at the same time. But above all, he feels it his “raison d’etre” to protect his mother from his father’s last words.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Foer novel without the reference to World War II. In Everything is Illuminated, it was the Holocaust. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it’s the American bombing of Dresden, Germany. Oskar’s grandparents provide a parallel story of love lost and regained, especially as they infuse their hopes into their relationship with their grandson.
Other reviewers have called this book poignant, quirky, touching, charming. It was all these things, and so much more I can ever hope to express. This book surprised me, made me smile, and made my heart hurt. While it lacks the comedic turn of Everything is Illuminated (very little can beat Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.), I felt this story’s familial ties were so much stronger. And then there are the ties Oskar forms with each New Yorker he meets, knitting an unlikely web that humanizes this forbidding city.
Of course, there’s also the pictures mixed in with the narrative, all taken from Oskar’s book of “Things That Happened to Me.” There’s also the chapter where Oskar’s dad has circled all the mistakes in red pen. There’s also the provacative series of pictures with the infamous falling man from 9/11. I could go on for a quite awhile, but I’ll let you read the book for yourself. Trust me, this is one is worth it.